Two days after they broke the seal on their 2014 training camp, the Washington Capitals opened their eight-game exhibition slate on Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres. The Caps skated off with a 1-0 win over Buffalo.
Shortly after the team completed its first practice on Friday, Caps coach Barry Trotz mentioned that he wasn’t expecting much in the way of structure in Sunday’s preseason opener at Verizon Center, but he was hoping his new team would play with “attitude.”
Hours before the game, Trotz was asked how he wanted that attitude to manifest itself on the ice.
“Just play fast,” replied the Caps’ bench boss. “I don’t know how the ice is going to be; it looks like it’s probably green ice right now. That means the puck is going to be bouncing all over. You’ve got to just manage the puck; let’s move north, let’s do the things that we need to do, manage the situation and don’t let the situation manage you.”
The Caps managed to do all of that for the most part, and they were able to make Andre Burakovsky’s first-period goal stand up.
Washington got off to a strong start territorially and in terms of possession, and that helped them draw the game’s first penalty, a hooking call on Buffalo blueliner Chad Ruhwedel at 3:19 of the first.
Buffalo’s Luke Adam went off for hi-sticking at 8:22, giving the Caps a second man-advantage, but that one was short-circuited halfway through. After Washington turned the puck over in the neutral zone on its way up the ice, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin sped back on the backcheck to prevent speedy Sabres forward Torrey Mitchell from getting a clear breakaway on Washington goaltender Pheonix Copley. Ovechkin slashed Mitchell, though, putting the teams at four skaters a side for the next minute.
Less than two minutes after the two clubs resumed playing five-on-five hockey, the Capitals scored the only goal they would need. Joel Ward shoveled the puck along the right wing wall to linemate Jason Chimera, who was stationed behind the Buffalo net. Chimera fought off his check and threaded a pass to the slot for Burakovsky. The 19-year-old forward settled the disc and rifled a shot that beat Buffalo goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, putting the Caps on top 1-0 at 13:14 of the first period.
“It was nice to score the first goal,” says Burakovsky. “I got a great pass from [Jason] Chimera and I just took a wrister and it went in. I was kind of shocked, but it feels really good to have the first goal. And after that goal, I think I could relax a little bit more in the game, feel more comfortable out there and just keep playing hard.”
Seeing the first preseason action of his NHL career, Copley made six stops against the Sabres in the first period.
“It’s cool to get in a game like that and get the experience in,” says Copley. “When I go out there, I just try and stop the puck. Wherever they put me, that’s when I know what I have to do. There is nothing I can do about where they put me. The only thing I can do is go out there and try and stop the puck, so that’s what I focus on.”
Braden Holtby took over in goal for Copley in the second period, and Holtby’s first stop was a good one. He denied Adam from the slot after Caps defenseman Madison Bowey made an errant pass in his own end just after the three-minute mark of the second.
Washington was able to kill off its first – and as it turned out, its only – full two-minute shorthanded situation without incident in the second period when Ward went off for hi-sticking at 7:41 of the middle session.
The Capitals held a territorial advantage over the game’s first 40 minutes, leading the Sabres by a 35-23 margin in shots attempted. Buffalo was able to establish more of an offensive zone presence and threat in the third, outshooting the Caps 12-7 and owning a 21-17 edge in shot attempts. Holtby and company kept the Sabres at bay, enabling the Caps to emerge victorious in the first of their eight preseason outings this fall.
Trotz knew his team would be a little short on legs in the third period, given the arduousness of the first two days of camp that preceded Sunday’s game. He was happy his team was able to author a quick start, take an early lead and maintain it the rest of the way.
“I liked our start,” says Trotz. “We talked about having a good start. One of the things was last year there were a lot of complaints that they didn’t get off to great starts, so I tried to focus on that. I thought when we were fresh in the first period, we were really good.”