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01/27/2013 7:38 PM EST
Ovechkin scores; Caps get 1st win, top Sabres 3-2
WASHINGTON 3, BUFFALO 2

By JOSEPH WHITE
AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An NHL routine gone missing for 262 days made
an overdue return Sunday: Alex Ovechkin scored a goal, and the
Washington Capitals won.



Like old times. The two-time league MVP nailed a one-timer from
the left circle on a power play, skated a few feet, bent his
left knee and unleashed that familiar downward celebratory fist
pump. He then collected the customary row of high-fives as he
skated past the Capitals bench.



And, naturally, it proved to be the decisive goal in the game,
coming with 14:49 remaining in a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo
Sabres. The Capitals hadn't won - and Ovechkin hadn't scored -
since May 9, 2012, during a playoff series against the New York
Rangers.



"We finally win," Ovechkin said. "So it's much, much better for
us right now. No pressure (on) our shoulders."



Joel Ward scored his third goal of the season, John Erskine got
his first since the 2011 playoffs, and Michal Neuvirth made 22
saves for the Capitals, who had opened with four consecutive
losses for the first time since 1993-94. The sluggish start -
which included far too many needless penalties and defensive
lapses - led players and new coach Adam Oates to openly question
the team's work ethic.



Not so on Sunday. The Capitals went to the penalty box only
twice and didn't allow a power play goal for the first time this
season. After the final whistle, the players gathered at center
ice and raised their sticks to the fans, a fitting showing of
thanks from the last team in the league to get a win. It was
also Oates' first as an NHL head coach.



"I was kind of hoping it would be sooner," Oates said, "but I'm
glad."



Ovechkin's goal gave Washington a 3-1 lead. Marcus Foligno put
in a rebound with 9:47 remaining to pull the Sabres within one,
but Neuvirth and the Capitals survived Buffalo's final push for
a tying goal.



Ovechkin should have had a second goal in the final minute, but
he hit the post of an empty net after the Sabres had pulled Ryan
Miller for an extra skater. Nevertheless, Ovechkin looks more
comfortable now that he's back on the left wing. He was on the
right side for the first time in his career for most of the
first three games, an experiment by Oates that's been shelved
for now.



Tyler Ennis scored in the first period, and Miller made 27 saves
for the Sabres, who have lost three straight after opening the
season with a pair of wins. Buffalo played without left wing
Thomas Vanek, who had been on the ice for all 11 goals in
Buffalo's first four games. Vanek sat out with a muscle strain,
sustained in the loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, and
was replaced by Nathan Gerbe on the top line with Cody Hodgson
and Jason Pominville.



"As a line they didn't get much going on," Buffalo coach Lindy
Ruff said. "It looked like maybe a little fatigue in their game.
... A couple of our top guys didn't quite have it."



NOTES: Sabres 18-year-old rookie C Mikhail Grigorenko was
stopped from point-blank range early in the third period and
remains without a point through five games. The Sabres will use
up a year of his entry-level contract if he plays in one more
game, so the team has to decide whether to send him back to the
juniors. "I'm going to look at it again," Ruff said. "I thought
overall it was a good showing for him. You'd like to see him
finish that play." ... The Capitals had led for only 2:32 all
season before Erskine's second-period goal. ... The Sabres
entered the game as by far the worst faceoff team in the league
and got even worse, winning only 20 of 53 draws (38 percent)
against the Capitals. ... Washington C Marcus Johansson, who had
no points and a team-worst minus-5 plus-minus rating over the
first four games, was a healthy scratch for the first time this
season.



---



Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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