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Ovechkin scores; Caps get 1st win, top Sabres 3-2

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Ovechkin scores; Caps get 1st win, top Sabres 3-2

WASHINGTON (AP) Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the season Sunday, and the Washington Capitals became the last NHL team to get a win, beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2.

After a fruitless first week, Ovechkin found the net with a one-timer from the left circle on a power play with 14:49 remaining in the game. Then came the familiar celebration that had been missing thus far in this shortened season: the former two-time league MVP unleashing a downward fist pump with left knee bent, then collecting a row of high-fives as he skated along the Capitals bench.

Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, John Erskine also scored, and Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for the Capitals, who had opened with four consecutive losses for the first time since the 1993-94 season. The sluggish start led players and new coach Adam Oates to openly question the team's work ethic.

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Two Team USA Capitals set to hit earlier than expected

Two Team USA Capitals set to hit earlier than expected

T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen will return to practice on Sunday, which is a day earlier than expected, associate coach Todd Reirden announced Saturday.

John Carlson, however, will rejoin his teammates on Monday as originally planned.  

“The setup we had for them was one travel day and two days off,” Reirden said, referring to the Capitals’ plan for players returning from the World Cup of Hockey. “Those two guys both want skate tomorrow and practice tomorrow. John needs an extra day just to take care of some different stuff.”

Reirden said the three Team USA players won’t participate in Monday’s preseason opener against the Hurricanes or Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens.

“That’s way too soon, as much as I’d love to see them out there,” Reirden said. “We’re going to wait a little bit. …We’ll see as things go from there. Some of it hinges upon some younger players, too, and how they do with the opportunities that are in front of them.”

Team USA’s final World Cup game was on Thursday night. Capitals’ training camp opened on Friday.

“We’re thinking about the start of the season and what gets each of [the World Cup participants] ready for the start of the season,” Reirden said.

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After bouncing around, Brett Connolly aims to find his game with the Capitals

After bouncing around, Brett Connolly aims to find his game with the Capitals

In the six years since Tampa Bay selected Brett Connolly with the sixth overall pick, the big winger’s numbers haven’t matched his draft status.

In fact, he hasn’t put up more than 25 points in a season.

But as he gets going with the Capitals — his third NHL team in two years — Connolly sounds optimistic that this will be the season he turns potential into offensive production.

“I think the style that they play here is going to play well into my hands,” Connolly said Saturday. “That’s kind of my game — skating, shooting, making plays. So far, so good. I like the way they play, their systems and their style. I think it’s a matter of putting it together consistently, and if I can do that, then I can have a good year, open their eyes and help this team win.”

The Capitals hope to tap into the upside Connolly was unable to show in Tampa and Boston. The Bruins did not extend the 24-year-old a qualifying offer this summer after he notched nine goals and 16 assists in 71 games last season. A few days later, Washington signed Connolly to a one-year, $850,000 contract on July 1.

“There were a lot guys this year that didn’t get [qualifying offers],” Connolly said. “I think the market in the league was a little bit deflated this year. It’s all a business. …I thought I was [going to be qualified], but things change. What are you going to do? I was fortunate Washington called right away and I didn’t really have to worry about it too much in the summer. As I said before, it was a no brainer. No matter what the money looks like, it’s the opportunity.”    

Associate coach Todd Reirden sees the deal being beneficial for the player and the team, which needs more offense from its bottom six forwards.

“We feel as an organization that he’s a guy [whose] game is on the rise," Reirden said. "We feel like we’re getting him at a good time. Sometimes players go through some difficult times and struggles and you can get real fortunate as an organization to pick this guy and get a bit of a gem. …Our system of play is designed for a player of his ability.”

Connolly said he hasn’t been told exactly where the coaches see him fitting into the lineup. But the next week is critical for him; with preseason games on Monday and Tuesday and four top-six forwards out due to the World Cup, it’s likely he’ll pick up some of those prime minutes at even strength and on the power play.

“He’s going to get an opportunity to show us what he can do,” Reirden said.  

Said Connolly: “My play is going [to determine] where I’m going to play. Just be a little bit more offensive, I think. They talked about the third line and [needing] the bottom six guys chipping in a little more. I’m a guy who can step into the power play and use my shot and chip in offensively. It’s just a matter of being good defensively.”

Connolly didn’t gloss over the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the hype. But he also made sure to use the word “yet” when asked about it.

“When you’re drafted high, there’s expectations,” he said. “Maybe it hasn’t happened yet. But I’m still very confident in my abilities. There’s been some good times. There’s been some not so good times. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”

MORE CAPITALS: NISKANEN, OSHIE AND CARLSON SET TO RETURN NEXT WEEK