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Caps are left with a blanked expression

Energy level criticized as team suffers first shutout loss of season, 3-0

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2009

BUFFALO -- On Monday, the Washington Capitals ascended to first place in the NHL standings for only the second time this late in a season.

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On Wednesday, Coach Bruce Boudreau said some of them played as if they were content simply with getting there.

For the first 40 minutes, the Capitals didn't compete with enough energy to beat Buffalo. In the final 20 minutes, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller made sure they didn't, making 13 of his 35 saves to send the Capitals to a 3-0 defeat, their first loss in seven games and first shutout in 69 games.

"You can get to six [wins in a row] and be satisfied and say, 'Hey, we're pretty good.' Or you can say, 'Listen, I want to be great and I want to push the envelope,' " Boudreau said. "And it looked like we were happy with six tonight for whatever reason, whether it was being on the road or happy with six or complacent because they're not used to smelling the air where they're at."

The night began with a fluky goal that deflected off of a defenseman's skate and eluded José Theodore, who started in place of the injured Semyon Varlamov. And things didn't get much better.

In the visitors' dressing room at HSBC Arena, the team leaders said they were most disappointed with the low energy level, non-existent forecheck and inability to capitalize on scoring chances.

"It was the effort on our part," Brooks Laich said. "We're the bigger team, the faster team, the stronger team and we got outworked. We knew they were going to bring a big effort tonight and we didn't respond."

"It shouldn't be hard" to stay motivated, Laich added. "We haven't won anything. I don't think we should take a whole lot of satisfaction. We're only up by one point, so it's not a real big deal. Then as soon as you let off, like we did tonight, now we'll probably fall back and not be in first place anymore."

Theodore (25 saves) had his moments, such as stopping Thomas Vanek in the second period. But he was outdueled by Miller, who has handed the Capitals two of their past four shutouts. (Columbus's Steve Mason has the other two.)

"If you had to compare the two, Ryan was better," Boudreau said. "It doesn't mean José was bad. But Ryan was great."

"You could tell he was so on from the first save he made on [Tomas] Fleischmann with his leg," the coach added. "You just knew he was going to be tough to beat. But we didn't get enough traffic or enough second shots. And when we did, his glove hand was so good it was impossible to beat."

Miller, the NHL's leader in goals against average and save percentage, was at his best in the third period when the Capitals finally decided to push back.

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