WASHINGTON (AP) — Jakub Vrana had a goal and an assist, Vitek Vanecek made 24 saves through overtime and the short-handed Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in a shootout Friday night in their home opener.

Nicklas Backstrom and Nic Dowd also scored for the Capitals, who won the first of four games they must play without captain Alex Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov because of pandemic protocols.

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Their absences meant Vanecek getting a second consecutive start with recently signed 39-year-old Craig Anderson backing up and unheralded forward Brian Pinho making his regular-season NHL debut. Vanecek was perfect in the shootout to pick up his second victory of the season as defenseman John Carlson scored the shootout winner.

Buffalo rookie Dylan Cozens scored his first NHL goal on a top-shelf snipe past Vanecek in the second period. Eric Staal and Riley Sheahan each scored his first goal since joining the Sabres. Linus Ullmark made 29 saves and was spotless in the shootout until Carlson beat him.


Ullmark was playing his first game since learning of the death of his father at age 63. He found out after a morning skate earlier in the week and decided it was best to take a few days away from playing.


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Washington did not have any more players added to the NHL’s list of those unavailable because of COVID-19 protocols beyond the four missing Russians. The Capitals were fined $100,000 Wednesday for breaking league rules since those four players were together in a hotel room not wearing masks.


Top-line Capitals winger Tom Wilson left the game early in the third period with a lower-body injury. Wilson earlier picked up his sixth point in five games and has been one of Washington’s best players so far this season.

Buffalo forward Kyle Okposo, considered a game-time decision Friday morning by coach Ralph Krueger, remained out with a lower-body injury. Goaltender Carter Hutton didn’t travel with the team because of an apparent head injury from a collision Tuesday in Philadelphia.


These teams face off again Sunday afternoon in their fourth meeting in 11 days. Puck drop was moved up four hours to 3 p.m. so it wouldn’t conflict with the Buffalo Bills playing in the AFC championship game.

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