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Hall of Fame broadcaster Rick Jeanneret made the trip to Washington with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and will return to his custormary spot in the broadcast booth for this afternoon’s game against the Washington Capitals in the Verizon Center.

Jeanneret missed the first four games of the season due to an undisclosed illness. He was honored in November by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for broadcast excellence and was expected to do the Sabres’ entire schedule this season when it was still an 82-game slate. Jeanneret, who started working for the team in 1971, worked about 65 games last season, taking some trips off to cut down on his travel schedule.

After the lockout ended, Jeanneret’s deal was expected to consist of the entire 48-game schedule of the shortened season. But the Sabres announced two hours before last Sunday’s season opener against Philadelphia that Jeanneret was ill and unavailable to work. Paul Hamilton called that game and Kevin Sylvester worked in Jeanneret’s place for the last three.

Jeanneret will join Rob Ray on the call for MSG and WGR Radio. In home games this year, Jeanneret will work from his usual spot in the press box while Ray will work from ice level between the benches. Ray will work some road games from the press box.

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The talent-laden Washington Capitals have been one of the big disappointments of the NHL’s first week of play. They enter today’s game against the Sabres at 0-3-1, their worst start since dropping their first six games in 1993.

Through games Friday the Caps had the league’s worst goal differential (17-8). They got their first point in Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey, rallying from a 2-0 deficit.

Winger Alex Ovechkin, who had 38 goals last season and has averaged 48.4 in his first seven campaigns, has just one assist.

“I think he needs a couple goals to relax and let it happen,” new Caps coach Adam Oates told reporters after practice Saturday in Arlington, Va.

The Caps are having major special teams problems. They’re just 3 for 20 on the power play in the four games and have killed only 16 of 24 penalties, leaving them 22nd in PP percentage in the NHL before Saturday’s games and 26th in penalty killing.

Goaltending has been a sore spot for the Caps. Michal Neuvirth played well Friday and will start again today. He’s 0-1-1, 3.36, .877. Braden Holtby is 0-2, 5.04, .863.

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Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had a brief chat Saturday morning with Thomas Vanek about the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Vanek drew in the first period Friday night against Carolina. Vanek, was penalized for slashing — the league has placed new emphasis on players not using their stick on an opponent’s hands — and was given an extra two minutes for directing what appeared to be a profanity at an official.

Vanek takes a nightly beating in front of opponents’ nets and told his coach he thought he’s taken many more shots worse than the one he gave out. Ruff grew frustrated last season with a rash of penalties Vanek took, especially in the offensive zone, and said he doesn’t want to see his star winger get disgruntled by officiating.

“I don’t think we can control that. That was a discussion Thomas and I had this morning,” Ruff said. “We can’t control that part. He can only control what he’s responsible for. If somebody else isn’t getting called, we can’t control that.

“We want to get away from that part. We dealt with that last year. We had a great conversation this morning about the penalties. Let’s not worry about what the opposition is getting or not getting. I told him, ‘You’re off to a fabulous start. Let’s make sure that doesn’t creep into the game.’ ”

email: mharrington@buffnews.com