BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Washington Capitals spoiled U.S. Olympic hero Ryan Miller’s return to the Buffalo Sabres’ lineup on Wednesday.
Mike Green snapped a third-period tie, Jose Theodore made 23 saves and the Capitals upstaged Miller in a 3-1 victory over the slumping Buffalo Sabres.
It was Miller’s first appearance in Buffalo since leading the United States to a silver medal and being selected the tournament MVP three days ago in Vancouver. But after receiving a 45-second pregame standing ovation from the hometown fans, he was unable to help the Sabres shake out of their slumber, thanks in large part to the tenacious play of the NHL-leading Capitals.
“When you play against a guy like Miller, you know he’s not going to give up too many goals,” Theodore said. “It was a real tight hockey game, and I’m really happy with the way we got the win.”
Hours after acquiring four players at the trade deadline, Theodore improved to 11-0-2 in his last 13 games, and held off the Sabres while the Capitals (42-13-8) shook off some early rust in their first game following the Olympic break.
“Everybody was a little slow at the start of the game, and it was a little slower than usual,” Green said.
After Green put the Capitals up 2-1 midway through the third, Theodore helped preserve the win with two straight scintillating saves in a 20-second span with four minutes to go. He first denied Chris Butler’s point-blank shot from the slot, then smothered Matt Ellis’ attempt from in tight.
“He makes the saves, and that’s what wins you the big games,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That’s what Miller does for them, and that’s what we got from Jose.”
Jason Chimera also scored, and Boyd Gordon added an empty-net goal for Washington, which snapped a three-game losing streak.
Miller, meanwhile, continued his stellar play from the Olympics by making 37 saves. But it wasn’t enough, as Buffalo (33-20-9) fell to 1-6-2 in its last nine games, and has won just three times in regulation since Jan. 18, a span of 16 games.
Jochen Hecht scored for the Sabres, who remain one point behind Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead.
“It’s frustrating,” said Miller, who didn’t play in Buffalo’s loss at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. “It comes down to attitude. The attitude can’t be, ‘We hope we’re going to win, we hope we’re going to do our jobs so we don’t get yelled at.’ It’s got to be take control, dictate play, and trusting the system.”
The Sabres gave the puck away numerous times as the game rolled along and the Capitals found their legs, and surrendered several odd-man rushes that, if not for Miller, would have eventually put the game away.
“We’re concerned about the way we played defensively,” Buffalo winger Jason Pominville said. “We’re not going to win a lot of games when we score one goal, but we’re not going to win many games the way we gave up opportunities either.”
Green gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead midway through the third period when he one-timed a shot past Miller from the slot.
Chimera opened the scoring when he deflected Jeff Schultz’s shot from the right point with 4:37 left in the second period.
Hecht tied it a minute later when he picked up a loose puck from the right circle and snapped a shot past Theodore.
“There wasn’t anything there,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We broke down system-wise and got away from playing the way we need to play.”
NOTES: Ruff coached in his 964th career game with the Sabres, tying Jack Adams for third on the NHL list for most games coached with one franchise. … Sabres C Paul Gaustad missed his first game after sustaining an upper-body injury against Pittsburgh. He is expected to be out at least a week. … Hecht’s goal gave him 400 NHL points. … Washington had been shutout in two of its last three games in Buffalo coming in.