Verizon Center hosts its first hockey game in four months on Monday night when the Capitals host the Buffalo Sabres in Washington’s preseason home opener. A third of the way through their exhibition slate, the Caps are 2-0. They’ve taken a pair of road contests getting good goaltending and late offensive heroics in both games.
Washington has scored seven goals in its first two games this fall. Defensemen have been involved in the scoring of four of those goals, and have totaled four points (one goal, three assists). Five of Washington’s seven goals have come in the third period or later, and four Capitals goals have been scored after the game’s first 57 minutes.
The Caps cut 15 players on Sunday, but none were among the 20 players who traveled to Chicago for Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Blackhawks.
Three members of the 2009 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears were among the heroes for the Caps on Saturday. Center Mathieu Perreault supplied the game-winner with a dozen seconds left in overtime, while fellow pivot Kyle Wilson chipped in with a goal and an assist. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth – the MVP of the 2009 Calder Cup playoffs – made 24 saves including a handful of brilliant stops. Neuvirth kept the Caps in the game until his teammates could get on track offensively.
With Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov both having earned victories in Washington’s first two games, veteran Jose Thoedore is slated to start on Monday against Buffalo. Theodore won 32 games for the Caps last season, one win shy of his single-season career high.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau has proclaimed Theodore his No. 1 goaltender heading into the season, but acknowledges the challenges being issued from Neuvirth and Varlamov.
“Theo is there but he’s got these young kids breathing down his neck,” says Boudreau. “Both Neuvirth and Varlamov are coming off tremendous years. They both want part of it, so we’ll see.”
Heading into his second season with the Capitals, the 33-year-old Theodore is also headed into the final season of his contract.
“Last year I was real excited to be here,” says Theodore. “But it was all new and it was about knowing the system and knowing the guys a little bit better, and that extra pressure of playing on a new team. Now I am anxious to be back here, see all the guys and just jump on the ice. I know what to expect, I know what kind of team we have; the way we play. And I know there is going to be a lot of competition in nets, but that’s always the case. I am just going to play like I can and be ready.”
After a slow start in 2008-09, Theodore caught fire in December and stayed hot for a couple months.
“If you look at the first couple of months,” Theodore remembers, “we couldn’t really put a good winning streak on. We were kind of on and off. And then as the season went on everything gelled together. I think this year it’s going to be about starting in the preseason right away. For myself as a goalie it is just going to be about making them feel confident out there.”
The Caps and Sabres hooked up in the preseason opener for both clubs on Thursday in Buffalo, with Washington prevailing 4-3 in overtime. The Sabres trailed 1-0 going into the third period in that one, but managed to take two separate third-period leads. The Caps came back to square up the score on both occasions, and Washington won it when Buffalo took its only two penalties of the game in the final minute of regulation.
Washington’s Brian Pothier scored on the resulting 5-on-3 power play in the extra session to send the Caps home a winner.
Since their opener against the Caps, Buffalo has entered the win column with a 3-1 triumph over Detroit on Saturday. Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller made his preseason debut in that one, stopping 42 shots. Sixteen of Miller’s saves came in the third period and five of those came in the game’s final 61 seconds.
Buffalo rallied for three third-period strikes against Detroit, including a late empty-netter.
After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Sabres are looking to rebound in 2009-10. Boston is still the elite team in the NHL’s Northeast Division, but second place is up for grabs and the Sabres are talented enough to have the inside track on that second slot and a return to the playoffs. Buffalo has missed the postseason in five of the last seven seasons, but advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in each of the other two campaigns during that timespan.
After Monday’s game in Washington, the Sabres head back to Buffalo to host the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
Notes: The Sabres hold a 15-11 advantage in the 26 preseason games played between Washington and Buffalo over the years … Eighteen of the 26 exhibition tilts between the two teams have been played at neutral sites … The first ever preseason games between the Caps and Sabres came prior to 1974-75, Washington’s maiden season in the NHL. The Sabres beat the Caps 4-2 at St. Catherines, Ont. on Sept. 22, 1974 and defeated Washington again in London, Ont. by a 3-1 count on Sept. 25 of that year.