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Shorthanded Capitals beat Sabres 4-3 in home opener shootout

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.

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.

Washington Capitals left wing Jakub Vrana (13) celebrates his goal with defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) and right wing T.J. Oshie (77) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

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 RETURNS

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.

Washington Capitals left wing Jakub Vrana (13) celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

NO NEW COVID ABSENCES

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.

INJURY UPDATES

Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19) celebrates his goal with left wing Jakub Vrana, center, and defenseman John Carlson (74) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

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.

UP NEXT

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his goal with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (55) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

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.

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL

Buffalo Sabres right wing Sam Reinhart (23) skates with the puck past Washington Capitals left wing Carl Hagelin (62) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) and Washington Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen (3) battle for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

The Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres compete amongst empty stands during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen (3) and Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens (24) chase the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19) celebrates his goal with left wing Jakub Vrana (13) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) stops the puck against Buffalo Sabres left wing Taylor Hall, center, during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. Capitals left wing Conor Sheary (73) looks on. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) stops the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Buffalo Sabres center Eric Staal (12) celebrates his goal with right wing Tage Thompson (72) and left wing Victor Olofsson (68) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) stops the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) skates with the puck between Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) and center Eric Staal (12) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)

Washington Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) chases the puck past Buffalo Sabres left wing Taylor Hall (4) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP PhotoNick Wass)