Thursday, September 17, 2009

Capitals Open Preseason With Overtime Win

After a very quiet first 40 minutes of their preseason opener at HSBC Arena, the Capitals and Sabres traded goals in a hurry during the third period as Washington emerged from the frenzy with a 4-3 overtime victory to start the campaign thanks to a solid showing from their special teams.

Alexandre Giroux, Mike Knuble, Jay Beagle and Brian Pothier scored goals for Washington, as Semyon Varlamov pitched a shutout for 40 minutes before allowing three goals on just six shots in the third period as Buffalo forced overtime with a strong third period effort.

However, Washington was able to stay in the game thanks to a perfect 4-for-4 performance on the penalty kill, and then cashed in on its first power-play chance of the night - which came in the final minute of regulation and led to Pothier's goal :49 into overtime as Buffalo took a pair of bad penalties to seal its fate.

Giroux, who scored 75 goals last year for the Bears in Hershey's Calder Cup championship season, notched the first goal of the season for Washington just 8:30 into the game, beating Buffalo's starting netminder Patrick Lalime with a wrist shot. The Caps, who were outshot badly early, also got a good performance early from their Stanley Cup hero Semyon Varlamov who was facing a pretty strong Sabres lineup for this stage of the preseason, stop a Tyler Ennis breakway in the first to preserve a 1-0 lead.

The Caps were outgunned 6-0 to start the second period before registering a shot of their own more than thirteen minutes into the frame, and Varlamov had to come up big twice to keep Washington in front as Buffalo had some good chances. Despite its very slow start to the second, Washington managed to outshoot Buffalo 12-9 in the second period, but couldn't beat Lalime or his replacement netminder Jhonas Enroth to pad its lead, and Buffalo then opened the third with a flurry.

Jason Pominville got the hosts on the board with a goal on a wrist shot 2:16 into the third period, and then less than four minutes later, Clarke MacArthur tipped in a Chris Butler shot for a 2-1 Buffalo lead. However, Knuble briefly evened the score thanks to his first goal in a Capitals sweater, as the ex-Flyer tipped in a Nicklas Backstrom pass past Enroth with just 6:28 left in regulation.

The Sabres retook the lead on a goal by Tim Kennedy with just 2:32 to play, but Beagle answered quickly for Washington just :23 later to knot the score at 3.

The Capitals got their chance to take the game late in regulation, as Buffalo took two sloppy minors in the final minute, with Enroth getting whistled for playing the puck inside the trapeziod behind the net with :36 left in regulation, and just :22 later, Mike Weber was whistled for boarding Brendan Morrison for an extended two-man advantage for Washington.

Pothier and the Caps made Buffalo pay, as the defenseman blasted home his first of the season in the first minute of the extra session and sending the Caps back to Washington with two points.

Giroux, looking to try and parlay his MVP performance in the AHL into a full-time role with Washington, put two shots on net with one beating Lalime, although he also was whistled for the team's first penalty of the campaign as well just over three minutes after his go-ahead goal.

Backstrom also ended the night with a pair of assists, including one on the game-winner, and put five shots on the Sabres' netminders to lead both teams.

Defensively, two of the young prospects looking to earn a spot on the Caps' blueline also got a look, with Karl Alzner and John Carlson getting time on the penalty kill. Alzner also finished plus-1, one of just four Caps to do so on the evening.

Pothier also was solid in his first preseason game in two years, earning the game-winner and an assist.

Varlamov made his bid for the No. 1 role with a good showing early, earning a win, and keeping the Caps in it despite some stretches where they were badly outshot. However, the Sabres were buzzing in the third, and beat the Russian three times to stop 20 of 23 Buffalo chances before the Caps took the win.

The Capitals will play their second game of the preseason Saturday night in Chicago, a game that can be seen on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and audiocast on WashingtonCaps.com.

Alexander Ovechkin, who stayed in Washington Thursday, apparently won't suit up at United Center either, likely making his preseason debut against Buffalo at home on Monday night.

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