Capitals hang on against Sabres, win Laviolettes debut in season opener

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BUFFALO T.J. Oshie had a goal and two assists for the Washington Capitals in a 6-4 win against the Buffalo Sabres in the season opener at KeyBank Center on Thursday.

John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom each had a goal and an assist, and Alex Ovechkin had two assists for Washington in Peter Laviolette’s first game as Capitals coach. Ilya Samsonov made 22 saves.

“There is a lot more than just me that got changed over (this offseason), and a lot of new pieces in there, and I think it is really important for our team,” Laviolette said. “It’s the start of the season or the start of a new direction and I think guys can really enjoy that.”

Taylor Hall had a goal and an assist in his Sabres debut, and Tobias Rieder scored in his first game with Buffalo. Carter Hutton made 22 saves.

Video: WSH@BUF: Hall, Olofsson team up for PPG

It was the Sabres’ first game in 311 days. They were not among the 24 teams in the NHL Return to Play Plan after last season was paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Buffalo defeated Washington in a 3-2 shootout on March 9, the Sabres’ last game of last season.

“We expected rust and there was rust, and we expected an adjustment to the physicality and the speed,” Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger said. “We need to simplify with the puck. We need to make sure that we are more compact defensively. We were a little hesitant. Our defensive game needs to take away the gaps and we need to attack quicker. I thought we were a little bit soft defensively as a group. We kind of fell back. We need to get back on our toes tomorrow.”

The teams play here again Friday (7 p.m. ET;  MSG-B, NBCSWA, NHL.TV).

Backstrom made it 1-0 at 5:43 of the first period, taking a pass from Ovechkin to the left of the net.

Hall tied it 1-1 on the power play when he redirected a Victor Olofsson pass at 8:48.

Oshie pushed a loose puck in the crease to put the Capitals ahead 2-1 on the power play at 10:33.

“I think he’s come in and done a great job of giving us direction and motivation and let us know how he sees us playing and how he sees our identity,” Oshie said of Laviolette. “And I think guys have received that message very well. So to get that win for him on Night One was special.”

Carlson extended it to 3-1 at 7:05 of the second period, breaking in along the right wing on a slow line change by Buffalo before cutting in and beating Hutton on the far side.

“Just from the first day of training camp I think our message for us on the back end, and even for the forwards, is to get more pucks on net,” Carlson said. “We had a couple other chances for most of the game on the back end. We were getting pucks through and trying to create some second-chance opportunities.”

Video: WSH@BUF: Carlson buries a laser on the rush

Brenden Dillon‘s shot through traffic off a Washington face-off win made it 4-1 at 13:23. It was the defenseman’s second goal in his past 143 games.

Rieder made it 4-2 on a wraparound to the right of Samsonov at 18:46. Dylan Cozens had an assist in his NHL debut.

Jake McCabe scored 20 seconds into the third period to narrow it to 4-3, but Jakub Vrana capitalized on a turnover 26 seconds later to make it 5-3.

“I think you can take solace in the fact that we were able to come back and make it close,” Hall said. “Obviously, we’ve got some guys offensively who can put it in the back of the net and force the issue that way. But it seemed like we were playing catch-up all night, which is a tough way to play against any team, but a team like Washington, a veteran team, that’s going to be a tough night. So we were behind the eight ball kind of right from the start of the game and weren’t able to get out in front of things.”

With the Sabres net empty, Olofsson made it 5-4 with a shot from the right circle at 18:06. Garnet Hathaway scored into the empty net at 18:57 for the 6-4 final.

NOTES: Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara played 20:16 making his debut for Washington. … Forward Eric Staal left his Sabres debut at 9:23 of the third period after an illegal check to the head by Nic Dowd. Krueger said Staal would be evaluated Friday morning and is considered day to day. … Laviolette was hired Sept. 15 to replace Todd Reirden. … 

Video: Capitals ride balanced offense to 6-4 win

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