Nov. 7 vs. Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington +
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 8-6-1
Buffalo Sabres 4-8-2
A night after authoring a 3-2 comeback victory in overtime over the Arizona Coyotes on home ice, the Caps are off to Buffalo to take on the Sabres. This set of back-to-back games is Washington's fourth of the season, and the Caps will play a total of 16 sets of games on consecutive nights in 2017-18.
With Tuesday's tilt with the Sabres in Buffalo, the Caps will have faced all eight of the NHL's Atlantic Division denizens once this season. Washington is 4-2-1 in its previous seven games against Atlantic foes in 2017-18.
Monday's win over the Coyotes gives the Caps their first three-game winning streak of the young season, and now the challenge is to stretch it to four while playing for the second time in as many nights against a rested Sabres squad. Washington has struggled in the second of back-to-backs in the early going this season. The Caps are 0-3 on the back half of those sets, and they've been outscored by a combined total of 14-4 in the process.
"Just talking to everybody, I think everybody felt good physically," says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, speaking of playing on the second night of back-to-backs. "I think it was just making things more complicated on ourselves than we had to, especially in the second night of back-to-backs. Especially when most teams are sitting there waiting for you, you can't allow yourselves to turn pucks over and give them transition chances. That does make you tired pretty quickly if you're the team that played the night before.
"I think sometimes just play more of a boring game, just try to grind them down more than trading chances. Usually [trading chances] is not a good recipe, even if you are rested, but especially on back-to-backs."
Monday's win over Arizona marked the fifth straight game in which the Caps have kept the opposition to two or fewer goals at five-on-five. The Capitals have surrendered just eight five-on-five goals in their last five games, and they've won four of the five, too.
"I think just our communication and our retrievals and getting the puck into the forwards' hands as quick as possible has been a lot better since I got here," says Caps defenseman Madison Bowey, who skated in his 10th game on Monday against the Coyotes. "If we can do that, if we're moving the puck, using our legs and using our skills to our advantage, it can be pretty dangerous.
"In these recent games here, we've been doing just that and sticking to that. We're really making sure that we're solid in our defensive zone first and foremost, and the offense will come. That's how it's been going so far, and we've just got to keep that up for sure."
In Monday's win over the Coyotes, Caps goalie Braden Holtby earned his eighth win of the season and the 199th victory of his NHL career. Holtby surrendered goals on each of the first two shots he faced against Arizona, but he stopped the next 22 to earn the win. Philipp Grubauer is expected to start Tuesday's game against the Sabres.
Caps defenseman John Carlson supplied the game-winner in overtime against Arizona, doing so for the second time in his NHL career. Ironically, both of Carlson's overtime game-winners in the NHL have come at the expense of goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who has only played in seven career games in the league.
Back when Wedgewood was a member of the New Jersey Devils on March 25, 2016, Carlson's overtime goal gave the Caps a 1-0 win in Newark. A year and a half later, and just 10 days after the Coyotes acquired Wedgewood in a deal with the Devils, Carlson victimized him again in the extra session.
The Sabres are in their first season under new coach Phil Housley. Housley, a former Caps defenseman, is a Hockey Hall of Famer who previously served as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators.
Buffalo has been battered with injuries early this season. The Sabres are likely to be playing without four of their top six defensemen on Tuesday against Washington. Nathan Beaulieu, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges and Rasmus Ristolainen are all expected to miss the game against the Caps because of various maladies.
The loss of Ristolainen would be especially painful for the Sabres, because the Finnish blueliner ranks second in the NHL only to Carlson in average ice time per night. While Washington's workhorse blueliner is averaging 27:14 per night, Ristolainen is right behind him at 27:09. Those two are nearly a full minute ahead of Los Angeles' Drew Doughty, whose 26:30 a game ranks third in the league.
The Sabres dropped each of their first five games (0-4-1) before picking up their first victory of the season on the road, in the midst of a West Coast trip in Anaheim on Oct. 15. Starting with that game, the Sabres have posted a more respectable 4-4-1 mark over their last nine games.
Buffalo has been idle since Saturday night, when it finished a two-game road trip against Western Conference opponents with a 5-1 loss to the Stars in Dallas. The Sabres earned a split on the trip, taking a 5-4 victory over the Coyotes in Arizona two nights earlier.
Offensively, the Sabres have been top heavy in the early going. The team's top trio of Evander Kane (seven goals), Jason Pominville (six) and Jack Eichel (four) has combined to account for nearly half (17 of 35, 48.6%) of the Sabres' total offense to date.