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Sabres beaten to punch by Caps; Buffalo fails to overcome another slow start, Ehrhoff suffers injury

In the beginning, the Sabres looked like a bunch of lost boys playing against men. In the end, they looked like an aggressive NHL team.

The turnaround still couldn't help them find a victory.

Buffalo, which has a history of slow starts, put forth one of its worst in years Friday night. Washington took advantage, going up early and staying in front for a 3-1 win in Verizon Center.

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin scored 1:42 into the game and iced it with 5:50 left, finding the net again to put his team up by two and end the Sabres' comeback hopes.

"Our first period wasn't very good, myself included," Sabres defenseman Brayden McNabb said. "Starts are crucial, and we just have to put together a full 60 minutes."

The Sabres lost their second straight and fell to 1-5 in their last six games. They have won only two of the last nine (2-6-1) and just seven of 22 (7-12-3). They also lost defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to an upper-body injury suffered during a first-period fight with Troy Brouwer.

"He's going to miss some time," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It'll probably be weeks."

The Capitals outclassed the Sabres from the opening minute to the sounding of the horn during the first. They beat Buffalo to pucks, hit harder and more often, skated faster and scored the only goal.

The Sabres' trouble started just 27 seconds into the game. Mike Weber boarded Jason Chimera, putting the league's fourth-ranked home power play on the ice. The Caps needed just more than a minute of the man advantage to take a 1-0 lead.

Ovechkin made McNabb live down to his rookie status. McNabb tried to hip-check the star along the boards. The Caps' captain flew past McNabb's attempt, the defenseman getting nothing but air.

"He came with a lot more speed than I expected and blew by me," McNabb said.

Ovechkin's pass to Brooks Laich at the side of the net never got there. It hit the stick of Ehrhoff and caromed past goaltender Ryan Miller with 1:42 gone.

"I've never seen so many bounces go the wrong way," Ruff said. "That gets you behind the eight-ball right off the bat."

The Sabres were on their heels from there. They didn't take their first shot until 7:20 remained, one of only two pucks put on Tomas Vokoun all period. The Caps, meanwhile, tested Miller 11 times.

"That lucky bounce they got for a goal really put a damper on our game," Sabres center Jochen Hecht said. "We had two shots in the first period. That's not close to being enough."

The second period started better for the Sabres, but they fell in a deeper hole 3:52 in. The Caps again made Buffalo look like a minor-league squad, using three quick passes to set up Nicklas Backstrom for a tap-in goal.

The Sabres finally dented the Capitals' dominance, pulling within 2-1 on Hecht's goal with 4:58 to go in the second. Vokoun stopped Thomas Vanek's blast, but Hecht dumped in the rebound to finally give the Buffalo contingent a reason to get loud.

Although the red-clad Caps backers in the crowd of 18,506 quickly drowned the fans out, the players in Blue and Gold continued to rally. The Sabres controlled the chances, finishing with a 26-21 shot edge despite their early no-show, but they ended up with one goal for the eighth time in 19 games.

"It's not about bad luck after awhile," Sabres center Derek Roy said. "You can have bad luck for one or two games, but after that it's about finishing your chances."

Ovechkin rifled home Backstrom's no-look pass with 5:50 left, leaving the Sabres to look toward tonight's game against Ottawa in HSBC Arena.

"We need to start a bit better, but we came back flying," right wing Patrick Kaleta said. "The second and third periods, we played really well, and that's the kind of hockey we need to play to win."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com