Strong Start – The Caps opened up the 2009 preseason with a 4-3 overtime win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Thursday. Brian Pothier’s point blast on a two-man advantage gave the Caps the victory at the 49-second mark of the extra session.
The Capitals grabbed a first-period lead on an Alexandre Giroux goal, and they nursed that slim advantage until 2:16 of the third when Buffalo finally managed to solve Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was brilliant for most of the night.
Buffalo held two separate third-period advantages but Washington rallied for the equalizer each time, getting goals from Mike Knuble and Jay Beagle.
Special teams were big for Washington. The Caps stymied the Sabres on four Buffalo power plays, and got Pothier’s game-winner while they were two men to the good. Washington did not get its first power play of the night until Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth played the puck in the trapezoid in the final minute of regulation.
No. 2 – Even before his game-winning goal, Pothier had been one of the game’s top performers. He had two blocked shots, was on the ice for all 1:25 of Washington’s power play ice time during the game and (along with partner Tyler Sloan) led all Caps with 3:25 in shorthanded ice time.
Pothier was effective in his own end, and he put on some good skating bursts to join the rush and give the Caps numbers in the transition game.
“Having the whole summer to prepare is phenomenal for me,” says Pothier. “It’s probably the best summer I’ve had in years. Having that extended vacation that I had was a blessing in disguise because I got healthy in every way. Every joint is actually working now. I feel strong enough to jump in the play and try to join the rush. Our forwards tonight did a really good job of looking for the fourth man, and I was able to fill in those late gaps and try to get the puck up the ice a little bit more.”
Stopping and Starting – The Sabres fired six shots on Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov in the games’s first 6:10. He stopped all six and then faced just two more in the final 13:50 of the frame.
Buffalo put five more shots in Varlamov’s direction in the first 4:18 of the second period. Later in the middle frame, the Sabres went 10:03 without getting a shot on the Washington goal.
Varlamov stopped each of the first 18 shots he faced, including a handful of spectacular stops. Most noteworthy was his second-period robbery of the Sabres’ Jason Pominville. Varlamov went post to post, did a full split and kicked out his right pad to swiftly close off what had been a yawning half-open net from Pominville’s vantage point.
“I think Varly was pretty outstanding the first two periods,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “They got a couple in the third, but I thought he was really good.”
The Sabres put three of their final five shots of the game behind Varlamov.
Put Away the Whistles – The Caps’ Giroux was sent off for slashing at 11:35 of the first period, leading to a face-off in the Washington zone. From that face-off until the end of the first frame – a span of 8:25 – there were no more whistles or stoppages of any kind. There were only 10 face-offs in the first period of Thursday’s preseason opener.
Quick Baptism – The Caps were unable to muster a second period shot on goal against Buffalo starter Patrick Lalime, who vacated the cage at the 13:13 mark of the middle period. Rookie Jhonas Enroth came on in relief, and the Caps quickly and frequently tested the young netminder.
The Caps needed only 11 seconds to fire the first shot in Enroth’s direction, and they poured seven shots on him in the first 2:51 in which he stood between the pipes.
Lalime saw seven shots in his 33:13 of action while Enroth was tested with 26 shots in 27:36 between the pipes.
Looking Left – Giroux and Chris Bourque are couple of guys with nothing left to prove at the AHL level who are looking to crack the Caps’ roster this fall. With left wing Tomas Fleischmann on the shelf for the season’s first few weeks, there is a window of opportunity for someone to grab hold of what currently looks like a temporary spot. It’s worth noting that players have turned temporary windows of opportunity into careers, too.
Both Giroux and Bourque have had stellar camps before – Giroux in 2006 and Bourque in 2008 – only to find themselves headed to Hershey when the season started. Both players acquitted themselves well in Thursday’s opener, and both earned postgame praise from coach Bruce Boudreau.
“He’s on the bubble,” says Boudreau of Giroux. “He scored 75 goals in the American Hockey League. You’ve got to give him an opportunity to see if he can do it here. He finds ways to score.
Bourque skated strongly all night. He and his linemates (Beagle and Andrew Gordon) were strong on the forecheck virtually every shift. Bourque was on the point for the overtime portion of Washington’s two-man advantage, and he picked up an assist on Pothier’s game-winner.
“I thought that whole line of Beagle, Gordon and Bourque were real spark plugs for us,” opines Boudreau.
By The Numbers –Jeff Schultz – who was also singled out for some postgame Boudreau praise – led all skaters on both sides with 22:42 in ice time … Sloan, who also earned kudos from Boudreau, led the way with five blocked shots … The Caps blocked 14 shots to three for Buffalo … The Caps won 62% of their draws. Beagle won 70%, Brendan Morrison 68% and Nicklas Backstrom 63%.
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