Feb. 23 vs. Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Washington Capitals 34-20-7
Buffalo Sabres 28-24-8
Washington finishes off a six-game road trip and its season's series with the Sabres on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo. The game also starts a set of back-to-back games for the Capitals, who will host the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena in their first home game in nearly two weeks.
The Caps carry a modest two-game winning streak into Saturday's game, as they are coming in off a 3-2 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Thursday. Tom Wilson's shorthanded goal in the third period accounted for the margin of victory and Braden Holtby made 40 saves to pick up his 21st win of the season.
Video: #ALLCAPS All-Access | A Win in the North
With the victory over the Leafs, the Caps have ensured themselves of at least breaking even on their six-game trip, the longest continuous road journey they've undertaken in more than 15 years.
"It adds up," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "all the time changes and miles and just going through different things with your group, making a trade and putting a guy on waivers, and you've got a lot of emotional things going on with your group as well.
"I'm really proud of how hard our guys played tonight and coming into this building is difficult. We knew going into it that we weren't able to beat them this year and that is something that we wanted to do. So that was a little bit of a rallying cry, and I thought our leadership group was excellent. They set the tone for us and now we give ourselves a chance to finish off the trip off right against a Buffalo team that is desperate to get into the playoffs."
The NHL's trade line is just on the other side of the weekend, Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. But the Caps haven't waited until the last minute to get some things done on that front. While the team was out on the road, general manager Brian MacLellan and his hockey operations staff have been hard at work trying to make the Caps better as they vie for a second straight Stanley Cup title.
While the Caps were on the ice for a Friday afternoon practice session in Buffalo, MacLellan pulled the trigger on a second trade in as many days. Washington traded defenseman Madison Bowey and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to the Detroit Red Wings for defenseman Nick Jensen and a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Bowey was informed of the trade as he left the ice after practice, and Jensen is expected to join the Caps before they leave Buffalo. He will wear No. 3 and could suit up as soon as Saturday against the Sabres.
Video: Todd Reirden | February 22
"He is a guy that is playing his best hockey, going into the prime of his career here, and his game is following along with it," says Reirden of Jensen. "He is a dependable, right-hand shot [defenseman] that skates really well and currently leads Detroit in [penalty killing] minutes from their defensemen.
"It's something we were looking to get better at, it's an area that we've been working through this year. He is a guy that with that right-hand shot, and experience and skating ability and ability to play on the penalty kill, he seemed like a perfect fit for us."
A day earlier, the Caps swapped a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a conditional sixth-rounder to Los Angeles for veteran speed merchant Carl Hagelin, who joined the team in Buffalo and participated in Friday's practice session. Hagelin skated on Washington's fourth line with Nic Dowd and Chandler Stephenson on Friday, and we expect to see that trio on the ice on Saturday in Buffalo against the Sabres.
"I'm excited to be here," says Hagelin. "I know what Washington is all about. I played them six out of seven times in the playoffs, so there is definitely some familiarity there, and I think obviously they should know what they're getting."
Video: Carl Hagelin | February 22
The Sabres are back home for just this one game after finishing off a three-game road trip with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Thursday. Buffalo went 0-2-1 on the trip and enters Saturday's game with a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) during which it has been outscored by a combined total of 15-6.
A 10-game winning streak in November vaulted Buffalo upwards in the Atlantic Division standings, but the Sabres have not been able to sustain the level of consistency needed to keep them there. Buffalo has won only 11 of 35 games (11-18-6) since that winning streak ended in late November.
Heading into Friday's slate of NHL activity, the Sabres rank 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, and they are six points south of the second wild card playoff berth. With 22 games remaining, the Sabres would likely need to win at least 15 of them to have a chance at surging past the two teams they need to climb over to claim that playoff berth.
The more likely scenario has Buffalo becoming a seller in the hours leading up to Monday's NHL trade deadline. The Sabres are a franchise on the rise, but their time is next season rather than this one.