- The Washington Times - Friday, September 30, 2011

With just two preseason games left, coach Bruce Boudreau said it was time for the Washington Capitals to “get our act in gear and start playing better.”

Friday night provided at a glimpse of that in the form of something of a dress rehearsal. It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, and some defensive-zone coverage problems were still noticeable, but the Caps managed to overcome their mistakes and wound up with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center.

Only Mike Knuble was missing from what could be considered a full lineup, so this was as good a gauge as any of how this team will look when the real games start.

“This was the first time we had most of our guys playing and we were playing a very good Eastern Conference team and we wanted to gain confidence in ourselves that yeah, we know we’re pretty good when we play as hard as we can,” Boudreau said. “We can get better, and we will get better, but at the same time, that was as good or better than we’ve played so far.”

On a few of the Sabres’ goals, it was obvious the Caps’ defense was not in last year’s midseason form, when a commitment to shutting down opponents became the way to win games. Guys were left open in front — Thomas Vanek’s second goal a perfect example — and there were a few breakdowns near the net.

After Mike Green’s power play goal in the second tied the game at 2 apiece, Washington had three straight troublesome moments: from Green and Jeff Schultz having communication problems on defense to leaving Drew Stafford alone for a one-on-one attempt that Tomas Vokoun initially stopped. But, Vanek’s deflection finally counted to put Buffalo ahead 3-2.

“I think the goals that we had was bad bounces and we was just kind of a little bit not concentrating in our zone and we lost Vanek in front of the net,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We just need to pay more attention to details in the D-zone.”

Right wing Joel Ward and others admitted there’s still some work to do all around, noting that it’s hard to play a “flawless game.” The Capitals most certainly didn’t do that, but they managed to turn up the intensity in the third period and dominate the play for long stretches.

It was Matt Hendricks’ rebound goal that tied the score in the third, but Boudreau felt that it was a culmination of a game’s worth of work. For the first time all preseason, the coach said, his team put a full game together.

“Maybe I’m the only one, but I thought the energy and the forechecking in the first two periods was pretty good as well,” he said. “We got the results in the third period, but I think a lot of it was because we worked hard in the first two periods. But it was consistent for 60 minutes, which we hadn’t done.”

In giving up three goals, Boudreau pointed to having to iron out some communication issues between the Caps’ defense and Vokoun, singling out the “newness of communication.”

The end result, though, had everyone smiling, as Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Miller in the shootout to improve to 2-3-1 in the preseason.

With the win and success in the third period, confidence is building — but it doesn’t seem the Caps are 100 percent ready for their close-up.

“Things are starting to come together a little bit. We’ve been working hard and still trying to execute a few things,” Ward said. “We’ve still got a little bit of work to do.”