By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010; D03
BUFFALO -- The Washington Capitals returned from the Olympic break healthy, refreshed and recommitted to defense -- and all three elements were apparent Wednesday night against Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres.
Mike Green scored the winner with 9 minutes 32 seconds remaining, and goaltender José Theodore stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period to help the NHL-leading Capitals earn a 3-1 win that snapped a three-game losing streak.
"I just told them that that was our best game in 10 games," Coach Bruce Boudreau said outside of the visitors dressing room at HSBC Arena. "It was by far our best game defensively [because] we didn't leave the goalie out to dry too many times."
Theodore finished with 23 saves, including a scintillating pad stop on Matt Ellis with about four minutes remaining as the Capitals clung to a one-goal lead. Miller, meantime, faced 39 shots -- Washington's highest output in 10 games.
"That's what wins you the big games," Boudreau said of Theodore's performance. "That's what Miller does for them, and we got it from José tonight."
The fourth line of Boyd Gordon, David Steckel and Matt Bradley was rewarded for an outstanding effort in the closing seconds when Gordon, from near the Washington net, banked a shot off the boards and into a vacated Buffalo net from about 190 feet to clinch a satisfying win on a stressful trade deadline day in Buffalo.
"Evidently, with 15 forwards, they don't want to sit out," Boudreau cracked, referring to General Manager George McPhee's acquisition of four players, including two forwards that's certain to create greater competition for ice time. "They showed they want to play."
Although Boudreau said he was pleased with his team's overall effort, he noted that the Capitals' Olympians -- Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann -- looked "tired." They combined for one point and nine shots on goal.
"All our Olympic guys looked tired and all our other guys gave us energy," Boudreau said.
After a scoreless first 35 minutes, the teams exchanged goals on back-to-back shifts.
Jason Chimera, who returned from a three-game absence because of a strained groin muscle, opened the scoring after Jeff Schultz's shot first pinballed off Eric Fehr. Miller, who earlier in the period stoned Ovechkin on an odd-man break, did not appear to see the puck before it sailed past him.
One sloppy play in the defensive end, however, ended up costing them exactly a minute later. An apparent miscommunication between Green and Brooks Laich led to a turnover between the circles that Jochen Hecht recorded his 400th career point after whipping a shot past Theodore.
Defensive breakdowns, though, were few and far between for the Capitals, who had struggled in that department before the break. In fact, the 24 shots they yielded to the offensively challenged Sabres were the fewest in 23 games.