Sabres 3, Capitals 2
Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig made his first start for the team in 17 months Saturday night, and he did so with an unfamiliar group of defensemen skating in front of him, shrunken pads strapped to his legs, smaller gloves on his hands and new rules swirling in his head.
None of that impeded the 35-year-old veteran, who turned aside all 21 shots he faced during the first two periods against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena. But Kolzig's backup, Maxime Daigneault, surrendered three goals in fewer than 21 minutes, and the Sabres skated away with a 3-2 overtime victory.
The preseason game was played in front of 17,057 fans and contrasted sharply with the Capitals' effort the previous night in Raleigh, N.C., where they were blown out, 6-0, by the Hurricanes in their opener.
"The execution was better than it was the other night," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "And when Olie is in that room there's a whole different aura in there. He's such a leader. People feed off it."
Kolzig sparkled in 40 minutes of work, despite playing under the new rules and equipment regulations for the first time.
"It wasn't pretty, but it was effective," Kolzig said. "All things considered, first game, new rules, not allowing any goals, it's a positive sign."
The width of goaltenders' leg pads have been nipped from 12 inches to 11. The catching gloves and blocker pads are also smaller.
"Now there's an advantage for being big," said Kolzig, who is 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds. "You can't make up for lack of size with pads anymore. I've always worn small pads for my size. For the most part, it's the upper body stuff -- and I didn't have to make any changes."
The new regulations -- aimed toward increasing scoring and fan interest after a labor dispute canceled all of last year -- also restrict where goaltenders are allowed to play the puck. They no longer can stop end-around passes in the corner, and are instead limited to playing the puck inside a trapezoid delineated by red lines behind the goal. Kolzig admitted that it is just one more thing he must think about.
How long Kolzig continues to stop pucks in Washington remains to be seen. In the final year of a five-year contract that will pay him $4.94 million this season, Kolzig is by far the rebuilding team's highest-paid player. It is possible he could be traded before season's end.
Kolzig reported to camp in top condition and has said he wants to play at least three more seasons. His last start for the Capitals was an overtime loss to the New York Rangers on April 3, 2004, at MCI Center.
For the second consecutive night, Washington fielded a split squad that comprised mostly prospects and hopefuls. The lineup, again, did not include left wing Alexander Ovechkin (coach's decision), defenseman Ivan Majesky (knee), forward Dainius Zubrus (knee) and forwards Alexander Semin and Petr Sykora (visa problems).
Left wing Matt Pettinger scored the Capitals' first goal of the preseason on a five-on-three power play midway through the opening period to open a 1-0 lead. The score remained that way until the third period, when Kolzig was replaced by Daigneault.
Daigneault promptly allowed the tying score on a power-play goal by Ales Kotalik. Capitals defenseman Bryan Muir restored Washington's lead to 2-1 with a tap-in moments later.
Buffalo's Thomas Vanek tied the game at 2 with a long wrist shot that eluded Daigneault with 11 minutes 30 seconds left to play.
Vanek's second goal of the game was the game-winner 32 seconds into the four-on-four extra session.
"Exhibition is so hard to tell because the lineups are so different," Hanlon said. "Tonight was good. The guys played hard. We're at a stage where the young guys are exciting us."
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn did not return for the third period because of a slight groin strain. He is day-to-day. . . . The Capitals are expected to announce cuts Sunday, trimming the training camp roster from three teams to one.