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Caps host Sabres in battle of two of the East's best

Wednesday, 12.23.2009 / 7:00 PM

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Caps host Sabres in battle of two of the East's best
Buffalo Sabres vs. Washington Capitals

SABRES (22-10-3) at CAPITALS (22-8-6)

Last 10 -- Sabres 6-3-1; Capitals 7-3-0

Season series -- This is the third of four meetings between the clubs this season. The first two have resulted in shutouts, one for each team. The Caps beat Buffalo 2-0 on Nov. 25 at Verizon Center and the Sabres blanked the Caps 3-0 exactly two weeks later in Buffalo on Dec. 9. Semyon Varlamov stopped 25 shots for the Capitals' shutout while Ryan Miller made 35 saves for the Sabres' shutout. The teams won't play again until March 3.

Big story -- It's a matchup of first-place teams who could be jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference standings until the very last day of the season. Both are coming off road wins in Canada. The Capitals rallied for a 4-2 win in Edmonton on Saturday while on Monday the Sabres knocked off the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime at the Air Canada Centre.

Team Scope:

Sabres -- Confidence is the word circulating through this dressing room. The Sabres have it in spades now. Trailing 2-1 entering the final 10 minutes of Monday's game, the Sabres managed to tie the game on a goal by Jochen Hecht and then win it in overtime with a tally from Derek Roy. As Hecht told the Buffalo News, "We didn't panic." There hasn't been any panic from the Sabres, who missed the playoffs last season by a mere two points. Miller has been awesome and they're getting contributions throughout the lineup. Perhaps the perfect script for how Buffalo is built to win was written two weeks ago when Miller authored a shutout of the Capitals and got help with goals from Steve Montador, Nathan Gerbe and Henrik Tallinder. It was Montador's second of the season, Gerbe's first and Tallinder's second. They've won five of seven since that victory. This team is just getting it done, plain and simple.

"I'm happy when anybody scores," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after Monday's win.

Capitals -- Talk about a team that is happy to be home -- and not because they had a rough road trip. The Capitals went 10-5-2 over a stretch where they played 13 of 17 games away from Verizon Center. After getting three full days off, they open a three-game homestand Wednesday and play five of their next seven at Verizon Center. Unfortunately, as was noted in the Washington Post, the Capitals returned home with a struggling power play. The Capitals have converted on just three of their last 23 power plays and were 0-for-4 in Monday's win in Edmonton. They were first in the League, but entered Tuesday tied for fourth at 22.9 percent. Amazingly, the power play drought has coincided with Alex Ovechkin's return from his two-game suspension. If they need their power play tonight, it could be rough sailing because the Sabres are sixth in the NHL in penalty killing (84.8 percent).

"Right now I think we're in a stretch where we're not getting breaks, but we're also not creating our breaks," Capitals wing Brooks Laich told the Post of the power play. "You need shots to get to the net and that's what we're not doing. I don't think that has anything to do with Alex being inserted back into the lineup. You ask any player in the (locker) room: We'll take him on our power play any day."

Who's hot -- For the Sabres, Roy had an assist on Hecht's game-tying goal and then scored the OT winner, giving him 8 goals and 19 assists for a team-high 27 points. He has 8 points in the last eight games. For the Capitals, Ovechkin took over the team lead in points Saturday with two goals and an assist -- all in the third period, when the Caps scored four times to overcome a 2-0 deficit -- giving him 23 goals and 18 assists for 41 points. He has 11 points since returning from his suspension seven games ago.

Injury report -- For the Sabres, Thomas Vanek (abdomen), Patrick Kaleta (neck), Chris Butler (ankle) and Nathan Gerbe (groin) are all banged up. For the Capitals, Varlamov (groin), Boyd Gordon (back) and Brian Pothier (rib) are out. Shaone Morrisonn, who sat out Saturday's game in Edmonton, should be back in the lineup.

Stat pack -- Here's an interesting stat from the Capitals crack PR staff: Tomas Fleischmann leads the NHL in shooting percentage with 14 goals on 51 shots (27.5 percent). In the Caps recent four-game trip to Toronto, Colorado, Vancouver and Edmonton, Fleischmann managed only five shots on goal, but scored three times.

Puck drop -- "I don't think there is (a hole in goalie Ryan Miller's game) right now," Ruff told the Buffalo News. "If there was, other teams would have it already. He's just been solid. … His reading the game and reading plays in the game is just real good right now. He doesn't have any holes."

2009-2010 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Mar 03 '10WSH 3 at BUF 1M. Green
Dec 23 '09BUF 2 at WSH 5B. Morrison
Dec 09 '09WSH 0 at BUF 3S. Montador
Nov 25 '09BUF 0 at WSH 2A. Ovechkin
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
D. Roy3692029+22433
T. Connolly3671724+01232
J. Pominville3681523+3820
T. Vanek31101121+21652
T. Myers3631619+61010
C. MacArthur3610717-83733
D. Stafford347916+11430
J. Hecht365914+01711
T. Kennedy364711+23202
M. Grier276410+1802
H. Tallinder362810+81600
S. Montador362810-13502
P. Gaustad24729+73331
P. Kaleta30639+96501
C. Rivet34099+25100
C. Butler25088-7800
M. Ellis33246+4401
A. Sekera26246+0400
T. Lydman22145+61200
N. Gerbe2112+1010
N. Paetsch9101+1600
T. Ennis1101+1000
A. Mair23011-12000
D. Paille2011+1000
M. Mancari1000+0000
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
R. Miller3121-8-2619361.99.935
P. Lalime51-2-1131312.89.901
J. Enroth10-1-04374.14.892
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
A. Ovechkin29242044+184674
N. Backstrom37142842+131251
M. Green3672835+142622
A. Semin28141731+102241
B. Laich37101727+21661
B. Morrison37101525+152233
T. Fleischmann2614923+4642
E. Fehr2781018+111010
M. Knuble2561218+82012
C. Clark3741115-32701
M. Bradley356612+41702
J. Schultz30189+161200
B. Pothier28358+111011
M. Perreault18257+4400
T. Poti31077+31200
K. Aucoin9145-2000
D. Steckel37224-2410
T. Sloan21224-11400
M. Jurcina26044+01200
A. Giroux9123+3400
S. Morrisonn27033-32700
J. Erskine24033+124500
K. Alzner9033+1400
Q. Laing20202+3000
J. Beagle6112-1200
K. Wilson2022+1000
B. Gordon7011-2800
J. Carlson3000+0000
B. Kane3000-1200
A. Gordon2000-2000
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
S. Varlamov1612-1-2344492.21.924
J. Theodore209-5-4535352.94.901
M. Neuvirth42-2-0131203.28.892