Thursday, September 22, 2005

Alexander Ovechkin, the highly touted No. 1 overall draft pick of 2004, made his Washington Capitals debut last night before a sparse preseason crowd at MCI Center. He got his first goal when he shifted back and forth and scored in a shootout against Buffalo.

However, the actual game was already over, a 4-0 victory for Buffalo, the Caps’ second scoreless game in three preseason outings, all losses. Ovechkin’s goal came during a postgame display for fans.

Was Ovechkin everything he was supposed to be? That’s impossible to tell under the circumstances, a sloppily played game dominated by power plays and penalty-killing and rampant disorganization.

“The only goal we score was on penalty shot,” Ovechkin said, referring to his shootout tally in a language he is still trying to master. “There were many penalty. First period we play [with] four players. We gave first period away. We not played good. Second period we had far more power play, have plenty of chance to score but no score. Buffalo score goals. We got to score.”

The Caps have been outscored 13-2 in a little more than nine periods of hockey this preseason, with both goals coming Saturday night in a 3-2 overtime loss to the same Sabres.

Despite being depressingly small [-] the number of people on hand at MCI was estimated at 4,500 (the Caps said 10,129 tickets were distributed) [-] the crowd was vocal and into the game from the start. It had been a long time between games for local hockey fans.

“It was harder early on” without hockey, said Charles Bartunek of Ellicott City, Md., “but I had been playing hockey more and more, and that started to fill the void. But on the way to the rink tonight I started remembering how much fun being at a game is. So in retrospect I think I missed it more than I thought.”

Bartunek said he thought “I was one of the few people who kept their season tickets during the lockout, so we wanted to see them play tonight and see Ovechkin’s first game, too.”

Some fans shouted suggestions for the Caps, mainly wanting to know when Ovechkin would be turned loose after reading about his ability for months. He had five shots on goal, not counting his shootout try, not bad at all for a rookie playing his first game.

Bartunek was wearing a sweater with former Caps star Peter Bondra’s No. 12 on his back, but he will have to wait for the Atlanta Thrashers to come to town to see the wing in action.

“On one hand I miss him because he was such a fan favorite,” he said, “but on the other hand if they really want to rebuild, it doesn’t make any sense to spend $2.5 million a year on a player who is only going to take ice time away from the youngsters. We’d be terrible with him. We might as well be terrible without him.”

Washington’s continuous parade to the penalty box nullified any chance the team had to put on a decent show. The problem wasn’t as bad as it was during a 6-0 loss at Carolina on Friday night, but Washington never could sustain an attack.

Even Ovechkin was not immune. Just 26 seconds into his first NHL preseason game, he found himself in the penalty box for hooking Jean-Pierre Dumont, who also was called for diving on the play.

The only positive may have been the extra practice for Washington in short-handed situations, which could come often this season. The Caps were short-handed six times in the opening period alone, twice at a two-man disadvantage. Yet Buffalo’s only first-period score came with the sides even when Rory Fitzpatrick chipped a shot over goalie Olie Kolzig, who went the distance for Washington.

In the second period, the Caps enjoyed three two-man advantages totaling more than three minutes but could not get a shot past Ryan Miller.

Notes [-] The Caps said last night the entire 82-game regular-season schedule would be televised locally on Comcast, WBDC (Channel 50) and NewsChannel 8. [EnLeader] Several veteran Caps and Ovechkin will visit with Hurricane Katrina evacuees at the D.C. Armory late this afternoon, passing out promotional items and serving dinner.

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