CAPITALS (19-5-6) at SABRES (16-9-2)
Last 10 -- Washington 7-1-2; Buffalo 4-5-1
Season Series -- This is the second of four meetings between the clubs this season. Washington beat Buffalo 2-0 at the Verizon Center on Nov. 25.
Big story -- Washington is streaking into Western New York. The Caps bring a six-game winning streak into HSBC Arena to play the slumping Sabres, who were on the wrong end of Martin Brodeur's record-tying shutout Monday night and have dropped their last two games while scoring just one goal.
Capitals -- Washington played well without Alex Ovechkin, but the suspended star returned Monday and scored a pair of goals, giving him 20 for the season. It served as a reminder of just how dangerous this team is with him in the lineup. He was issued a game misconduct for a boarding major 3:38 into the third period the last time the Capitals played Buffalo. Defenseman Mike Green took a shot to the head from TampaBay defenseman David Hale in the third period of Monday's 3-0 win, but despite some wooziness he is fine and is expected to play tonight. It's also fair to at least assume that rookie Semyon Varlamov, who stopped all 25 shots for his first shutout of the season against the Sabres two weeks ago, will be in net. Varlamov made 26 saves in Monday's 3-0 win over TampaBay. He's 12-1-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average.
"I think the world will start to get to know him as the season progresses," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of Varlamov, a first-round pick in 2006. "He's going to be a special athlete."
Sabres -- They come into this game after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Rangers and a 3-0 decision to Brodeur and the Devils, both at home. However, it's probably just a mini-drought because the Sabres had scored 18 goals in their four previous games, all wins. That being said, their power play is 0-for-11, and they have been held to two or fewer goals in five of their last seven home games. This is the fourth game in a five-game homestand and the Sabres are now 1-2-0. Similarly, the Sabres were struggling to find the net the last time they played the Capitals. That 2-0 loss was their fourth in a row, but they won their next four games before that 2-1 loss to the Rangers. Coach Lindy Ruff on Tuesday put the team through an hour-long video session and than a hard practice, which is not the norm for the day before a game.
"It was a real clunker," Ruff told the team's Web site in regards to Monday's loss. "We're reviewing some of the areas I thought we fell down in… where our effort wasn't good enough, and went out and practiced what I thought would help us in a game."
Who's hot -- For the Capitals, Alexander Semin had two more assists Monday night, giving him eight points (2-6-8) in his last three games. For the Sabres, goalie Ryan Miller has continued to play well despite the back-to-back losses. He stopped 34 of 37 shots against New Jersey and 30 of 32 against New York. He has an NHL-best .935 save percentage and 1.90 goals-against average.
Injury report -- The Capitals will be without Boyd Gordon (back) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw). Matt Bradley is questionable because he became a father to a baby boy Tuesday morning. Mike Knuble (fractured finger), who hasn't played since Nov. 13, could return. The Sabres may have to play without defenseman Andrej Sekera, who suffered a bruised ankle in Monday's loss. Paul Gaustad (leg) and Mike Grier (family sickness) may also not be available.
Stat pack -- The Capitals have six players (Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, Green, Semin, Brooks Laich, Brendan Morrison) with 23 or more points. Tim Connolly and Derek Roy are tied for the Sabres' lead with 21 points. The Sabres, though, have yielded only 62 goals, which is third in the League behind Chicago and New Jersey. … The Capitals now lead the Presidents' Trophy race with 44 points.
Puck drop: "Before the game we talked about how it would be nice if we won the game," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of Monday's win that vaulted them over San Jose for first in the NHL. "It's not really significant at this stage of the season. It's a marker that you're playing well. But it's way more significant after 82 games."