The Zamboni brok down resurfacing the Memorial Auditorium ice after the second period tonight. When the teams finally resumed play, the Washington Capitals broke down.

Trailing 43 after 40 highly competitive minutes, the Capitals were outshot, 15-4, in the final session and wound up 6-3 losers to the Buffalo Sabres in the opening game for both teams.

Buffalo's new coach, Scotty Bowman, received a puck from his happy players and wore a smile that reached most of the the way to Montreal.

"It's good feeling to win that first game, especially at home," Bowman said. "We deserved to win. It would have been unfortunate to lose after playing that well."

Washington Coach Danny Belisle might have disagreed with that last statement, but he had not doubt, either, that the best team won.

"They played better, no doubt, about that," Belisle said. "They just wouldn't allow us to get anything going in that third period. They were rifling the puck around the boards and out and we didn't have a chance. But we don't play Buffalo 80 games and when our guys get more experience we may be closer to them."

The Capitals were closer for awhile tonight, after falling behind 2-0 in the first 2 1/2 minutes and reviving memories of that record 14-2 defeat here four years ago.

This Washington team does not quit, a fact it proved by charging into a 3-2 advantage before the second period was seven minutes old.

Pete Scamurra, the hometown boy who played well enough to rate a postgame star, put the Capitals on the scoreboard. After Dennis Maruk lost the puck when Buffalo's Jim Schoenfield grabbed him, Scamurra sprinted in from the right point to take possession. He skated into the crease and beat goalie Don Edwards with a backhander.

Rolf Edberg and Maruk gave Washington hopes of victory with almost identical shots from the right side, using Buffalo defensemen as screens to victimize Edwards.

"A good, experienced hockey club will take advantage of a comeback like that and won't allow them to get back in it," Belisle said. "But we made some fundamental mistakes, possibly because so many players are inexperienced in this league, and it cost us."

Within 1 1/2 minutes of Maruk's go-ahead score, the Sabres were in front to stay. Gil Perreault broke away fro Capital rookie Mike Gartner to complete a two-on-one break against Scamurra, rattling a shot off the post into the net behind Wayne Stephenson.

Just 29 seconds later, Derek Smith made it 4-3. With Washington's Robert Picard caught far up ice, Buffalo defenseman Richard Dunn raced into the Washington zone and managed to feed Tony McKegney before Leif Svensson cut Dunn off. Stephenson deflected McKegney's shot, but Smith netted the rebound.

More than half the game remained, but the Capitals did not mount another serious offensive threat. Meanwhile, Buffalo kept firing away and Danny Gare finally deflected a John Van Boxmeer drive past Stephenson for his second goal and a 5-3 Buffalo edge.

The Capitals were losing most of the faceoffs and they could not remedy that problem with Stephenson pulled for a sixth skater. With the Sabres in control, rookie Lindy Ruff drilled the finale past point man Bengt Gustafsson.

Stephenson, besides yielding five goals as his defense often failed to protect him, took two hard knocks late in the game. He was struck high on the chest by a Gare blast and his head was knocked into the post when he collided with McKegney.

Washington's game plan went awry after only 48 seconds, as Ryan Walter landed a solid check on Martin and was penalized by referee Ron Wicks for "boarding." Buffalo capitalized on the cheap call with a power-play score a minute later.

"Wicks said i took a run at him, but i wasn't a foot away when i hit him," walter said. "Our game plan was to eliminate Martin and i was suppose to get two good hits on him the first shift. If Martin gets three or four hits, he's not effective. I got the hits -- and the penalty. And they get a goal. It was discouraging."

There are, however, 79 games left.