Alexei Tezikov had just settled in for a post-practice nap in Portland, Maine, when his phone rang on Thursday. That night, he was flying here to join the Washington Capitals, replacing injured defenseman Joe Reekie. By 8:30 tonight Tezikov, 21, was thrusting his hands to the heavens, celebrating his first NHL goal.
Tezikov's slap shot quickly answered a Buffalo goal and proved to be the game-winner in the Capitals' first victory of the season, a 3-2 win over the Sabres at Marine Midland Arena. It was the first win for Washington's new ownership group, headed by Ted Leonsis.
Tezikov, acquired in March from Buffalo for Joe Juneau, is considered one of the top prospects in the organization, and rewarded the team in just the sixth NHL game of his career. He took a pretty drop pass from Peter Bondra and pounded the far side of the net, with Yogi Svejkovsky providing the screen in front. Peter Bondra immediately retrieved the puck, embracing Tezikov on the bench and handing over the prize.
"He seemed a little overwhelmed at times, but all in all we were pleased with Tezi," Coach Ron Wilson said. "He was taking all these weak wrist shots in camp and we finally got him to start drilling the puck. It looked pretty good tonight."
Led by several youngsters, the Capitals showed a strong offensive punch, but again made costly mistakes around the net, and yielded another early goal. Fortunately for them, goaltender Olaf Kolzig was outstanding, outdueling Sabres superstar Dominik Hasek while the youthful line of Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and Steve Konowalchuk continued to dominate.
The Sabres were pumped from the outset. They had just raised their Eastern Conference championship banner (as the Capitals did a year ago), Hasek was making his final opening appearance (he has vowed to retire at season's end) and the fans were shouting, "No Goal, No Goal" -- a reference to Brett Hull's controversial goal in Game 6 of the finals last season, giving Dallas the Stanley Cup in triple overtime.
The crowd got more boisterous when Kolzig robbed Wayne Primeau off the opening face-off. Kolzig was tested twice more in the opening minutes and Washington was whistled for two penalties in the early minutes. Kolzig somehow managed to swipe Stu Barnes's shot from the goal line, but the Capitals failed to defend Brian Campbell and Primeau at the crease. Primeau scored easily about six minutes in, with Kolzig whacking the puck from the net in disgust. He shook it off to stun Miroslav Satan with a two-pad slide, stopping a one-timer.
"Olie wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be in Florida, and he was a little upset about it," Wilson said. "Tonight he was great. He always rises to the occasion when there's a big-time goalie in the other net. You love to have a guy who rises to that challenge."
Vaclav Varada was whistled for interfering with Kolzig about 10 minutes in, and Chris Simon leveled Campbell and was jumped by Primeau. Simon landed a bevy of big lefts. Primeau got an extra penalty for instigating and the Capitals tied the score on the power play -- one of seven the teams shared in the first period alone.
A clock malfunction caused a substantial delay, allowing Washington's top five-man unit to catch a collective breath after logging heavy minutes with all the special teams play. Andrei Nikolishin, who shined again, threaded a pass through bodies; Bondra got two cracks at the puck and beat Hasek glove side, tying the score with 5 minutes 41 seconds left in the period. Kolzig stoned Mike Peca right on the goal line. Hasek withstood a rush barrage from Konowalchuk and Bulis.
Bulis, who leads the team with three goals, put Washington up 5:10 into the second period, fooling Hasek short side -- a rare soft goal. Kolzig made a terrific stop on Brian Holzinger dashing to net, but had no chance when Campbell was untouched with the rebound, tying the game at 2 with about 12 minutes left in the second period. It was the last goal the Capitals yielded, as they played a tentative, yet sound, third period.
"I'm not worrying about goals-against average or numbers or anything like that," Kolzig said. "I just want to give the guys a chance to win every game. I made a few big saves early and felt good all night."
Tezikov's goal put Washington ahead to stay -- a tally that might make him a bit richer. He wasn't at the season-opening loss, when Leonsis offered $1,000 to the player who nabbed the game-winner. Leonsis wasn't at tonight's game, but some are guessing the offer still stands.
"I didn't know that," Tezikov said. "Sure, one thousand bucks is a lot of money, but all that's important is the team win. That's what I care about."
CAPITALS' HOME OPENER
What: Washington Capitals (1-1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (3-1)
Where: MCI Center