LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals returned to the ice for the first time in a week last night, strong and determined. But that didn't help them much against the Buffalo Sabres, who had a brick wall named Dominik Hasek in goal, and the result was a 4-1 Sabres victory.
Hasek stopped all but one of Washington's 32 shots, which was good enough to send the Capitals to their fourth loss in five games, this one before an announced sellout crowd of 18,130 at USAir Arena.
Added to the misery of the defeat was the loss of Sylvain Cote, one of the Caps' top four defensemen, who collided with Buffalo's Michael Peca and tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He will have an MRI Monday, but is expected to be out from six to eight weeks.
After the game, when Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld heard the extent of Cote's injury, he did an old Archie Bunker routine, pantomiming the loading of a gun and shooting himself.
"We've got to catch a break soon," Schoenfeld said. "Pretty soon, at this rate, it will be the second time around for everybody."
A year ago, the Caps played the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs with nine first-line players out with injuries. Since training camp resumed last month, the injury battle has continued to be waged.
Certainly, there will be few breaks to be had tonight, as Washington faces Pittsburgh, which, at 1-5 is just as desperate as the Caps.
Last night, Washington got two of its top players back when goalie Olie Kolzig, recovered from mononucleosis, played for the first time this season and left wing Steve Konowalchuk got into his first regular-season game since pulling rib cartilage in the preseason.
But neither was enough against Buffalo. Without leader Pat LaFontaine (concussion) and despite being outplayed through two periods, Buffalo managed goals by Alexei Zhitnik (short-handed), and Michal Grosek on two-on-one counterattacks and Dixon Ward scored a pretty, back-breaking goal with 5: 10 to play in the final period for a 3-1 lead. Derek Plante later scored into an open net.
The Capitals had hoped a week of solid practice would change their fortunes, but despite dominating play for most of the game and putting shots on Hasek that most goalies couldn't have stopped, only rookie Richard Zednik managed to score -- and that on a power play.
Tonight, Washington will have Jim Carey in net. Carey, the Vezina Trophy-winner last season, has beaten Pittsburgh only once at the Civic Arena in his two seasons and has been embarrassed by them in the past two playoff seasons.
"If I was Jim Carey, I'd have been waiting all summer to play the Pittsburgh Penguins," said Schoenfeld. "So I'm going to give him the opportunity to do that."
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Site: Civic Arena, Pittsburgh
Time: 7: 30
TV/Radio: None/WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: The Capitals face Pittsburgh for the first time since Round 1 of last season's playoffs. Washington backup G Olie Kolzig started last night against Buffalo. It is anticipated that No. 1 G Jim Carey, who has not played well against the Penguins over the past two seasons, will go up against them tonight. The Penguins are 1-5 and report RW Tomas Sandstrom (groin) is day-to-day and D Neil Wilkinson (abdominal surgery) is out.
Pub Date: 10/19/96