Reuters - Thu, 04 Mar 07:45:00 2010
The Washington Capitals spoiled Ryan Miller's return from Olympic action as the NHL's leading team ground out a 3-1 victory over the US goaltender's Buffalo Sabres.
Miller received a long standing ovation from his home crowd and made 37 saves but still came out on the losing side in his first appearance since helping the US win a silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics.
Jason Chimera gave Washington (42-13-8) the lead in the second period before Mike Green and Boyd Gordon sealed victory with third-period goals.
"When you play against a guy like Miller, you know he's not going to give up too many goals," Washington goaltender Jose Theodore said after improving to 11-0-2 in his last 13 decisions.
"It was a real tight hockey game and I'm really happy with the way we got the win."
Jochen Hecht converted a wrist shot in the second for the slumping Sabres (33-20-9), who have lost eight of their last nine games.
Despite a second defeat in as many days, Buffalo remain one point behind the Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division.
Alex Ovechkin had a quiet night for Washington after playing for Russia at the Olympics along with Washington team mate Alexander Semin.
NHL points leader Ovechkin made four attempts on goal in nearly 19 minutes of action as the potent Washington offense outshot Buffalo 40-24, finally breaking through with 4:37 left in the second.
Theodore preserved the win with 23 saves, shutting down the Sabres after allowing a score at 16:23 in the second. He made a couple big saves in the final four minutes of the contest including one from Buffalo defenseman Chris Butler.
The Sabres withdrew Miller in the final seconds, which allowing the Caps to complete the scoring with an empty-netter.
"It's all about who's going to crack in their system first," Miller said.
"If you don't commit to it, if you don't accept it, you're not going to win consistently. Right now we're just looking for an easier way to play our system... but it doesn't exist."