- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It started bad: a penalty on Roman Hamrlik just nine seconds in. It got worse: a goal by Jason Pominville on the ensuing power play 42 seconds later.

What happened after that almost defies words, as the Washington Capitals put on a listless, lethargic and lackluster performance in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night at First Niagara Center.

“Those are habits that need to be broken if you want to be successful,” defenseman Karl Alzner said of various mistakes that plagued the Caps. “I don’t know how long it takes before enough is enough.”

The silver lining might be that unlike the last time they got blitzed in Buffalo, the Caps won’t be getting their coach fired following this one. A 5-1 defeat in late November was the final chapter of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure; this loss is one that many fans will want to tear out of the book detailing Dale Hunter’s time with the Caps.

It was one of those nights where just about everything went wrong, at least during a disastrous first period. The tone was set by Hamrlik putting the puck over the glass just seconds after the opening faceoff. Three goals later, it became a debacle.

“I think we have probably worst start in this year. We get penalty, they score quick goal, and after that they score another and another one. I don’t know what happened, but that kind of goals kill us and kill your mentality,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “That kind of start unacceptable, especially when you take a penalty right away.”

Said forward Troy Brouwer: “Not a lot of things went right from the start of the game.”

The penalty kill was responsible for allowing two goals, a whammy came up as Hunter pressed his luck in starting Michal Neuvirth for the fifth straight game. He surrendered three goals on six shots in just 11:15.

Things snowballed, Hunter pulled his punch on using a timeout but tried to correct things by inserting Tomas Vokoun.

“You pull the goalie and then you’ve got to start chipping away,” the coach said. “That’s what we tried to do, but it’s too late.”

Vokoun finished with 16 straight saves after allowing a goal on the first one he faced. He kept the Caps in the game but save for a goal by Matt Hendricks here and Ovechkin there, they couldn’t mount any kind of comeback. This wasn’t to be like Friday night in New Jersey when the third period was the scene of celebration.

Instead, the Caps dropped to 6-10-1 on the road and were left without a point and with the unsettling but all-too-familiar feeling of wondering how to fix what’s going wrong.

“We’ve got to keep watching the tape and hopefully it’s one of those things that clicks and everyone starts to figure it out because you don’t want to go through an entire season winning and losing like this,” Alzner said. “It’s never very fun.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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