March 9 vs. Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 41-20-7
Buffalo Sabres 29-30-8
Seeking to build on a strong 60-minute effort in Saturday's 5-2 victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the Caps head to Buffalo for the finale of their three-game road trip. After Monday's game in Buffalo, Washington will have just five road games remaining on its 2019-20 regular season slate: single games in Columbus, Pittsburgh and Florida, and a two-game trip to Detroit and Buffalo late this month.
In Saturday's win over the Pens, the Caps opened up an 3-0 early lead and were able to add to it and maintain it for the remainder of the game. By the time Pittsburgh solved Braden Holtby for the first time at 5:09 of the third period, the Caps had four goals. When the Pens closed to within 4-2 late in the third, Washington promptly answered back with a T.J. Oshie goal less than a minute later.
"I think this was a good game for us to kind of feel how it usually feels in this room," says Oshie, "with everyone working for each other, everyone working hard, playing hard, and [Holtby] obviously being great in the net there again. This is something that we can build on, and we can use a lot of clips from today as positive reinforcement of what we have to do moving forward and how we have to play, and how many people we need involved on a shift-to-shift basis."
For the first time since Nov. 1, the Caps took a lead of three or more goals to the room at the game's first intermission.
"It seemed like we were a little more prepared today," says Holtby. "It's one of those games where you get some good goals; we got most of our stuff off the rush, which was part of the game plan, and I thought our guys did a good job.
"But it's one game. We take it as a win, but we need to move on and keep getting better."
That's the rub, for sure. With less than a month and only 14 games remaining in the regular season, the Caps are running out of time to get their overall game shored up to a "feel good" level. Even in losing the previous two games to Philadelphia and the Rangers, the Caps showed flashes of their hard forechecking identity at times, but ultimately undercut themselves with a series of unforced errors.
Saturday's win represented one of the Capitals' best 60-minute efforts since they returned from their midseason break some 19 games ago. Washington has managed consecutive wins only once during that span, but has picked up points in six of its last nine (4-3-2) and is on a modest 4-2-1 run going into Monday's game with the Sabres.
"This stretch of games - these [last] three in particular - were magnified with all of them being Metro games," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "I think some self-inflicted wounds in the first two games really hurt us. And I think we took some lessons from that, and did a better job of managing the game with the puck, and also making sure we're making the right decisions on the ice in terms of stick infractions and some of those things that have been a problem for us."
Video: Reirden | March 8
In limiting the Pens to two goals on Saturday, the Caps also ended an ignominious run of 10 straight games in which they allowed three or more goals against, their longest such streak in nearly three decades.
For the second straight season, Buffalo roared out of the gates and was one of the league's top teams over the first quarter. But once again, the Sabres faded and will extend their streak of seasons without a playoff appearance to nine straight, the longest streak going in the league right now.
Just ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, Buffalo put together a run in which it won five of six games, prompting general manager Jason Botterill to make a couple of low-cost moves made in the hope that it might spur the Sabres to playing meaningful hockey in the month of March. But Buffalo came up empty on a four-game Western swing immediately after the deadline, and that losing spiral extended to six games after the Sabres came back east.
Including a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg that preceded their six-game slide, the Sabres have scored two or fewer goals in seven straight games, and they've been outscored by a combined total of 22-10 during the life of their losing streak. Buffalo is 0-for-17 on the power play in its last seven games.
"I think as the season has gone on," says Reirden of the Sabres, "they've gotten more and more structured and used to the system that their coach has been putting in. They made a pretty good surge there about two weeks ago, and since then they've obviously been going through tougher times. But like I said, they're an extremely structured, detailed team that plays hard. So we've got to be ready to go here [Monday] night."
Video: Locker Room | March 8