"We've been able to have success on the road," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "And we've been able to carry some of that thought process and some of that mentality that you have when you go on the road home with us. I think that can be one key element to allow us to have a little bit more success at home."
Heading into the season's second month, Buffalo (along with Boston) is one of only two teams in the league with a better record than Washington's from a points percentage perspective. The Sabres made some personnel moves over the summer, and defenseman Brandon Montour is likely to make his 2019-20 debut for the Sabres tonight; he suffered a hand injury in September and missed the first 13 games.
Perhaps the most significant Buffalo change is behind the bench, where Ralph Krueger has taken over from ex-Caps defenseman Phil Housley.
"They're way more organized, more detailed," says Reirden of the Sabres, "and I think that they did a really good job this summer of building their team through a lot of personnel moves. I think their general manager [Jason Botterill] did a nice job and their organization did. I think Krueger has brought in a very sound system, and he is getting a lot of buy in. I think all of those things combine into a really good setup for them to have success, and they've done well."
Shining Star - Caps defenseman John Carlson had a month for the record books in October, and on the first day of November the league gave him some recognition and some love. Carlson was named the NHL's No. 1 star for the month of October, a month in which he rolled up 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) to set a Washington franchise record for most points by a defenseman in a single month.
Carlson recorded a point in 12 of Washington's 14 games last month, had eight multi-point games, was third in the league with an average of 25:46 in ice time per game, led all NHL defensemen with 4:34 in power play ice time per game, and he led all defensemen - and was second among all skaters in the league - with 16 points at even strength.
Carlson finished October with a flourish, scoring two goals in Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
"They're going in more than they have before, I'll give you that," says Carlson of his hot start. "Whenever you get the chance and a good opportunity in a good position to score, you've got to try to make the most of them."
Video: Todd Reirden | November 1
"He is feeling it for sure," says Reirden of Carlson. "His numbers say all there is to be said on that. He is shooting it as good as he ever has right now, and it's his confidence that he has. He is really feeling good about his whole game and his overall place on our team, his role on our team, the responsibility that has been added on his plate this year in addition to just being a player, and he has really stepped up in terms of what he has done.
"What a month of October, what a month. I'm really proud of what he has done. He has put the time and the work in, and I couldn't be any happier for him."
Call Me Up - The Caps made a roster move early on Friday morning, summoning forward Liam O'Brien from AHL Hershey. Centers Nic Dowd and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both injured during the first period of Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win over Toronto. Kuznetsov returned to action later in the first, but Dowd missed the remainder of the game, and neither player practiced on Thursday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.
At Friday's morning skate, Kuznetsov was a full participant, but Dowd was again missing in action. O'Brien was also a full participant, but he is not expected to play on Friday against Buffalo unless Kuznetsov has a setback of some sort between now and game time.
O'Brien has three goals in nine games with Hershey this season, and he leads the Bears with 13 PIM. The 24-year-old Halifax, NS native made his NHL debut with the Caps just over five years ago, on Oct. 9, 2014, and he has recorded two points (one goal, one assist) in 17 career NHL games.
Higher Power - Buffalo swaggers into town with the league's second-best power play this season, clicking at a 29.8 percent clip through the season's first 13 games. The Sabres have amassed 14 power-play goals in 13 games in the early going, though they have slowed somewhat from their torrid early season pace. The Sabres struck for eight power-play goals in 15 tries in their first four games of the season, an unsustainable 53.3 percent pace with the extra man.
Buffalo's big gun on the power play so far is rookie winger Victor Olofsson. Olofsson was a seventh-round pick (181st overall) for the Sabres in the 2014 NHL Draft. He'll play in his 20th NHL game on Friday night in Washington, and he is the first Buffalo player chosen in the seventh round or later to play as many as 20 games in the league since defenseman Mark Mancari logged 42 games in the league after the Sabres selected him in the seventh round in 2004.
"They've done a really good job with their structure," says Reirden of the Buffalo power play, "they've done a good job on recoveries of pucks, and then they've got a guy who is shooting it really well, in terms of their rookie, Olofsson. He has had a strong start to the year, so he has added a different element to that [right] side, with a lefty that can really bring it, in addition to the right-handed shots that they have that can shoot it as well.
"They're clicking, so it will be a good challenge for us tonight. We've got to take less penalties."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | November 1
Olofsson leads Buffalo with six power-play goals this season, accounting for nearly half of the team's total. All six of his goals this season have come on the power-play, and each of his first two NHL goals last season (in a six-game trial with the Sabres) were also scored on the man advantage. He is the first player in NHL history to score each of his first eight career goals on the power play.
Buffalo finished the 2018-19 season with the league's 16th ranked power play. Last year's Sabres clicked on 19.5 percent of their extra-man opportunities.
In The Nets - Braden Holtby will be in goal for Washington on Friday, seeking his sixth win of the season. Holtby has helped his team to at least a point in each of his last five starts (4-0-1) and will be aiming for a second straight win on home ice. In those last five starts, Holtby has a 2.95 GAA and a .916 save pct.
Lifetime against the Sabres, Holtby is 9-4-1 with a shutout, a 2.60 GAA and a .911 save pct.
For Buffalo, we're expecting to see Carter Hutton in net. Hutton has started eight of the Sabres' first 13 games this season, posting a 6-1-1 mark to go along with a 2.21 GAA and a .926 save pct. Hutton stopped 42 of 44 shots in his most recent start, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes in Buffalo on Monday night.
Over the course of his career against the Caps, Hutton has a 3-3-2 mark, a 3.19 GAA and an .888 save pct. In nine appearances.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Sabres to look on Friday night in the District when they meet for the first of three times this season in the first of Washington's 14 November games:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 21-Hathaway
28-Leipsic, 18-Stephenson, 72-Boyd
14-Panik (upper body)
26-Dowd (lower body)
68-Olofsson, 9-Eichel, 23-Reinhart
53-Skinner, 90-Johansson, 17-Sobotka
71-Rodrigues, 37-Mittelstadt, 43-Sheary
28-Girgensons, 22-Larsson, 21-Okposo
4-Bogosian (lower body)
6-Scandella (lower body)
13-Vesey (upper body)