So much for the fast start that the Capitals were hoping for. Yvon Lambert's first two goals with Buffalo last night enabled the Sabres to post a 4-2 victory over Washington, which slumped to a 1-5 mark.
For further misgivings, only 9,597 turned out at Capital Centre, despite a highly advertised family-date-night discount ticket promotion.
Washington Coach Gary Green sent out his three most aggressive forwards to start the game, hoping that Bob Kelly, Ryan Walter and Alan Hangsleben would make some big hits and set the proper tempo for the game.
Instead, it was Buffalo that hit the right tune, with Danny Gare scoring at 2:05 to send the home folks into shock. Jean Francois Sauve cut past defenseman Pat Ribble, only to flub his shot. The puck lay in front of goalie Dave Parro and Gare lifted it in for his first goal of the season. Gare netted five against Washington in four games a year ago.
It became 2-0 with two seconds left in the period, an occurrence that sent the Capitals headed for the dressing room with boos vibrating in their ears. The goal came off a faceoff in the Washington end with seven seconds remaining, and it was preceded by Capitals shuffling around the circle in obvious demonstration of the fact that they didn't know what they were doing.
Sabre rookie Randy Cunneyworth drew with Dennis Maruk and the puck squirted to the rear boards. Buffalo winger Steve Patrick hopped on the puck and slid it out front to Lindy Ruff, who whipped it past Parro for his second of the season.
The Capitals lost winger Roland Stoltz with a bruised shoulder early in the period, and he was followed to the dressing room by defenseman Rick Green, who suffered a 15-stitch cut in his chin.
With Stoltz gone, Alan Hangsleben moved out on left wing, with Bengt Gustafsson shifting to the right side on Maruk's new line. Hangsleben threw some solid checks, as did Ribble and Bob Kelly.
Green and Stoltz returned for the second period, although receiving less ice time than usual. Green quickly made his presence felt by starting a play that ended with Bobby Carpenter skating down the right side and beating goalie Bob Sauve with a sizzler from the rightwing circle at 32 seconds. Sauve had anticipated a pass to Ryan Walter, but Carpenter fooled him and recorded his third goal.
The Sabres rebuilt their lead to 3-1 on a power-play score by Yvon Lambert at 15:40. Jim McTaggart was off, for tripping Ric Seiling, when Lambert deflected a long drive by Van Boxmeer for his first goal as a Sabre.
Moments earlier, penalty killers Gaetan Duchesne and Glen Currie twice mounted two-on-one shorthanded breaks. Van Boxmeer broke up one by blocking a pass; on the next, Sauve made a good save on Currie.
The extra-man success was only the second in 17 tries for Buffalo, one of the league's worst marks. Washington, with two failures during the period, dropped to three for 25.
Gustafsson missed about eight minutes while his skates were repaired and Gary Green reunited the "Roaring Twenties" line of Maruk, Kelly and Jean Pronovost. The trio created a bit of a stir, with Maruk flattening Bob Sauve and Sauve gaining his revenge with a remarkable save after Maruk was set up in front by Kelly.
On a power play following a trip by Van Boxmeer, Buffalo defender Jim Schoenfeld was left limping after he blocked a shot by Gustafsson. Schoenfeld hung in and went down to deflect another Gustafsson drive before he was able to skate slowly off.
Washington boosted its powerplay percentage a few notches after Schoenfeld was caught tripping Gustafsson in the third period. Greg Theberge fired from the right point and Walter deflected the puck to the left-wing circle, where Gustafsson pounced on it and beat Sauve for his first goal of the season with 11:25 remaining.
Lambert boosted the Sabres' margin to 4-2 with 6:57 left, also in an extra-man situation.