ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It was, goalie Olie Kolzig said, “the way we should have been playing all along.”
The Washington Capitals won their first road game of the season last night, thoroughly dominating Buffalo in a 3-2 victory that snapped a four-game winning streak by the Sabres against the Caps.
It was close and hard-fought throughout, but the Caps controlled their opponent unlike at any other time this season, registering more shots — 28 to the Sabres’ 17 — for the first time than the opposition and winning their fourth game of the campaign, all by 3-2 scores.
Nobody in the Washington dressing room at Blue Cross Arena at Rochester War Memorial was surprised, other than having to wait for 10 games for everything to fall into place.
“That’s the way we’re supposed to play. That was absolutely terrific,” said Kolzig, who had the easiest time he has had this troubled season. “We frustrated them all night long, and even though we gave up two goals, I thought our penalty-killing was awesome.”
If there was a drawback to the night, it was penalties. The Caps continued their march to the penalty box, giving Buffalo six chances; the Sabres converted two. But six is a much better figure to live with than the dozen or more Washington had been recording for most of the season.
“It was just a terrific game,” the goalie said. “We’ve got to put that one in our memory bank and play like that every night.”
If they do, they no longer will be cannon fodder for every opponent. Washington matched Buffalo’s physical game and took advantage of an opportunity when it really counted, four minutes into the third period after the Sabres had come back to forge a 2-2 tie.
“We did a lot of things in practice that you saw tonight,” said defenseman Jamie Heward, who scored the game-winner with a two-man advantage off feeds from Bryan Muir and Alex Ovechkin. “The things we should have been doing, they kind of all came together at once. We know we’re trying to build on something here, but still it was good to play a full game. We played very well and should be able to build off this.”
The Caps spotted Buffalo a 1-0 lead in the first, but that score stood just 13 seconds before Jeff Friesen knotted it with his first goal of the season. Petr Sykora put Washington ahead with a disputed goal at 1:48 of the second, setting up Heward’s game-winner.
“No question,” coach Glen Hanlon said when asked whether it was the Caps’ best game of the season. “We did a great job, and our young defense did an excellent job.”
Notes — Defenseman Steve Eminger is becoming an offensive force. Last night was his third two-point night of the season. … Three defensemen — Brendan Witt, Nolan Yonkman and Mathieu Biron — were healthy scratches last night. Witt was hundreds of miles away in Juniper Beach, Fla., with his family as they struggled to recover from a brush with Hurricane Wilma. Witt’s home, north of hard-hit Fort Lauderdale, had only minor damage, but Witt told a friend he waited in a line for gasoline for more than four hours yesterday. Witt plans to join the team today. … The team departed immediately after the game for Tampa Bay, where it plays tomorrow night. That portion of the Gulf Coast was untouched by the storm. The Caps’ game against Florida, scheduled for Saturday night but postponed, has not been rescheduled.