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Capitals hope to continue offensive output vs. Sabres

by Sean McCullen

CAPITALS (23-21-8) at SABRES (14-30-7)


Last 10: Washington 3-5-2; Buffalo 3-4-3

Season series: This is the third and final game between the teams. The Buffalo Sabres have won the first two games against the Washington Capitals this season, each by way of a 2-1 shootout victory. On Dec. 29, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller made 50 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping all six Washington attempts in the shootout.

Big story: Washington's offense came to life in Alex Ovechkin's return to the lineup Saturday night, when the Capitals beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-0 at Bell Centre. The NHL's leading goal scorer, who had missed two games with a lower-body injury, scored his 36th goal and assisted on another. But the Capitals didn't rely on their scoring star to break out of a scoring funk, getting goals from three unlikely sources -- John Erskine, Jay Beagle and Casey Wellman each scored his first goal of the season.

Team Scope:

Capitals: Even with the five-goal outburst Saturday against the Canadiens, Washington has scored 13 goals in its past eight games.

A big reason for the recent offensive struggles has been a slumping power play. The Capitals are 1-for-23 with the man advantage in the past five games, including 0-for-8 against Montreal. Their power-play unit was tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for tops in the NHL as recently as Jan. 15, but has fallen to fourth as a result of the slump.

"I don't think anything has really changed (with the power play). I think it's our execution," coach Adam Oates said after practice Monday. "Maybe guys are a little tired, using them too much in other situations. A little stale. Teams are really conscious of us, throwing different wrinkles at us. Good goalies making saves. Missing chances. A little bit of everything."

Although it didn't count as a power-play goal, Ovechkin scored to put Washington ahead 1-0 early in the second period against Montreal as Canadiens forward Lars Eller was exiting the penalty box.

The win against Montreal snapped a seven-game losing streak (0-5-2).

Sabres: After breaking out with five goals Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Sabres were shut out Monday by the Penguins in a 3-0 loss.

The Sabres are last in the NHL in goals. Their 91 goals are 24 fewer than the Calgary Flames, who are 29th in the League.

Coach Ted Nolan wasn't pleased with Buffalo's effort in the second period, when the Sabres allowed two Pittsburgh goals, including one off a turnover in their own end.

"We're a team that we can't have glaring mistakes. It's very demoralizing," he said. "I think it demoralized us for a little bit. We woke up in the third period, we made a push, but not good enough."

Goalie Ryan Miller has started four of the past five games, so Jhonas Enroth could be in net against the Capitals.

Who's hot: Washington defenseman John Carlson has two goals in his past five games. … Buffalo center Cody Hodgson has eight points (four goals, four assists) in eight games since returning from a hand injury.

Injury report: Capitals forward Mikhail Grabovski (ankle) will not play. Defenseman Jack Hillen (fractured left tibial plateau), who has been out since Oct. 3, has resumed skating. No time frame has been set for Hillen's return. … Sabres right wing Drew Stafford (upper body) did not play Monday after he was injured Saturday against Columbus. He is day-to-day. Forwards Cody McCormick (upper body) and Matt D'Agostini (upper body) are on injured reserve.

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