Nov. 1 vs. Buffalo Sabres at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 94.7 The Drive
Buffalo Sabres 9-2-2
Washington Capitals 9-2-3
Back from its longest road trip of the season, Washington gets set for a home-heavy November slate in which it will play nine of 14 games on home ice. First up are the Buffalo Sabres, who come into the District for their lone visit of 2019-20 on Friday night.
The Caps roared their way through a five-game road trip that started in Chicago on Oct. 20, wended its way through Western Canada, and concluded in Toronto on Oct. 29. When it was all over, the Caps claimed nine of a possible 10 points (4-0-1) to come home occupying the top perch in the Metropolitan Division standings.
"To get points in all of the games, that's a challenge on any road trip, let alone one where you're going across a few time zones," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And it's difficult competition; the teams in Western Canada now have really improved personnel wise and systems wise with some different things that they're doing.
"I'm very happy with the trip. We're looking forward to continuing some of that momentum [Friday] being back home."
Washington started the season by playing eight straight opponents that made the playoffs last season, and it did so without defenseman Michal Kempny (lower body) for all eight games and without center Evgeny Kuznetsov (suspension) for the first three. Nine of the Caps' first 14 games were on the road, and the Caps still managed a 7-1-1 record in those nine October road games, becoming just the second team in NHL history to win seven road games in the month of October.
Video: Caps 365 | October 31
"I think our willingness to stick with it," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie, when asked what impressed him most of his team's October accomplishments. "There have been some big momentum swings in some games, and some have been bad for us. In some of them, we've had momentum taken away, and we got it back really quickly.
"When a team can snap back like that in the middle of a game, adjust their game and start playing the right way, and take control and find a way to get two points, I think it's positive to see and positive going forward."
The Caps not only picked up a point in every game on the trip and in eight of nine road games in October, but they also had their rookie dinner/party on the trip and worked around one of their most significant road travel delays in recent memory, playing their way through four time zones in five games in the process.
"Obviously you always want to be a good road team; that's going to be important down the road," says Oshie. "But it was a good month for us, it was a good start. We got in a lot of games it felt like, but I feel like it's maybe better that way, that we get on the road. We got a long road trip where the guys could bond a little away from the rink. October was good for us, and now we're looking forward to November."
As well as the Caps played in October - and they set franchise records for both wins (nine) and points (21) - they weren't able to achieve any real separation in the Metro Division standings. The Caps lead Carolina by four points and are five points up on the New York Islanders, but Washington also played more games in the month of October than any other team in the league. If the Hurricanes and Islanders are able to win their games in hand on Washington, they'll be right there with the Caps at the top of the heap.
"We're in the middle of the process, not even the middle," says Reirden of his team. "If you were to look at this at the start of the season, I think numbers wise you'd be happy where we're at standings wise. That being said, we evaluate ourselves on what we're doing right and wrong, and making sure that we're properly looking at things from that perspective. But it was a very busy and difficult month, and I'm happy to be where we are right now."
Video: Todd Reirden | October 31
While Washington played only three of its 14 October games against Metro opponents, the Caps' November slate is even lighter with divisional foes. Only two of the team's 14 November games are against fellow Metro denizens, and both of those are on the road, at Philadelphia on Nov. 13 and against the Rangers in New York a week later. The Caps' home slate for this month is heavy with Western Conference foes (five of them) and Atlantic Division opponents (four). The Sabres are among the latter group, and Buffalo starts off a month in which Washington will face a different Atlantic team in the District every other Friday night this month.
Last season, the Sabres were 17-6-2 in late November, riding a 10-game winning streak. But they won just 16 of their last 57 games (16-33-8) and missed the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season. Buffalo made an offseason coaching change, installing former Swiss national head coach Ralph Krueger behind the bench. Earlier in the decade, Krueger had a brief run as the Oilers' bench boss following a couple seasons as an associate coach in Edmonton.
Buffalo has roared out of the starting gates under Krueger, picking up at least a point in 11 of its first 13 games. Last season, the Sabres permitted an average of 3.27 goals per game, ranking 24th in the league in that department. Under Krueger, they've shaved that number to 2.46 per contest, sixth best in the league. When Krueger coached the Swiss national team, his calling card was getting teams to buy in defensively in order to give them a chance to compete and win against larger nations with much more hockey talent.
The Sabres have limited the opposition to two or fewer goals against in seven of 13 games this season, and they've held foes to three or fewer in nine of 13. The Buffalo power play has also played a big part in the Sabres' revival. Entering Thursday night's light slate of NHL activity the Sabres have the league's second best power play at 29.8 percent on the season. They lead the league with 14 power-play goals in 13 games, and their extra-man unit has tallied at least once in 10 of those 13 contests.