Feb. 24 vs. Buffalo Sabres at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 34-20-7
Buffalo Sabres 18-32-11
The Buffalo Sabres are in town on Saturday night for their lone visit to the District this season, coming to Washington five nights after the Caps earned a 3-2 win over the Sabres in Buffalo earlier in the week.
Washington has dropped two straight games since that Presidents' Day matinee victory over the Sabres in Western New York, and the Caps now seek to avoid their first string of three straight regulation losses this season.
The Caps started February with a relatively comfortable lead in the Metropolitan Division standings, but they've fallen into second place in the Metro, a point behind the surging Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington was six points up on the Pens at the start of the month and seven better than third-place New Jersey The Devils, now in fourth place, are still five points behind the Caps.
While Washington has won six of 16 games (6-6-4) since returning from its bye week, the Penguins have rolled to a 14-3-1 mark over a similar stretch of time, since the conclusion of their own bye week. The Caps have scored a shade better than three goals per game (3.06) over that aforementioned 16-game stretch, but they've been bleeding goals against to the tune of 3.5 per game.
Earlier this week, the Caps made two separate trades to bring in blueline depth, obtaining Michal Kempny from Chicago on Monday and Jakub Jerabek from Montreal on Wednesday. Kempny made his debut with the Caps on Thursday against the Panthers in Florida; there is no firm word yet on when we might see Jerabek suit up for the first time. The Jerabek deal was consummated as the Caps were leaving for Florida, so he was to join the team upon their return. Washington had an off day on Friday.
The Caps have been unable to gain any traction since their bye week; they've not won more than two straight games, but they've also not gone more than two straight without collecting at least a point.
Most recently, the Capitals coughed up a late lead in Florida on Thursday night, marking just the second time in the last four seasons they lost a game in regulation in which they were leading with 10 minutes left in the third period. Owning a 2-1 lead with less than four minutes remaining, the Caps lost 3-2 on a Vincent Trocheck power-play goal with 18.7 seconds remaining.
Much like the Caps' 4-3 overtime loss to the Jets in Winnipeg on Feb. 13, it was a case of playing a sound game of road hockey for 54-56 minutes, only to commit costly mistakes at critical junctures of the contest.
"I liked a lot of stuff that we did today in terms of our lines," said Caps coach Barry Trotz in the wake of Thursday's loss, "and even defensively we did some pretty good things. And we got some timely saves; I thought [goaltender] Braden [Holtby] made some timely saves especially early in the third when on the first couple of shifts we were a little soft in areas and not managing the puck the way we wanted to."
Washington's ultimate undoing in Thursday's loss may have been its inability to add to its 2-1 lead despite numerous chances to do so. The Caps missed on some great looks at the Florida net, and Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo was strong, making
"We just couldn't convert. We had a couple of great looks and didn't find the back of the net. We allowed them that window to get it tied up, and then we obviously took the unnecessary penalty. We should [have] at least one point tonight."
Since the Caps last saw the Sabres in Western New York on Monday afternoon, Buffalo left town to head out on a two-game road trip, a journey that concludes here in D.C. on Saturday night. The Sabres started the trip with a 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Thursday night.
Buffalo is seeking to avoid what would be its fourth last-place finish in the Atlantic Division in the last five seasons. When the Sabres went from a meager 54 points in 2014-15 to 81 the following season, Buffalo seemed on the cusp of making a jump into playoff contention. But the Sabres regressed to 78 points in 2016-17, leading to the dismissals of general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma.
With Jason Botterill pulling the personnel strings now and Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley behind the Buffalo bench, the Sabres got out of the gates slowly this season. and are virtually certain to fall below the previous season's point total once again. With a modest 4-5-2 record in February, the Sabres are in the midst of their best month of the season to date.