CAPITALS (10-9-2) at SABRES (12-9-1)
TV: CSN-MA, MSG-Buffalo
Washington 3-6-1; Buffalo 5-4-1
This is the first of four meetings this season between the Eastern Conference teams. They will play each other twice more between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Washington went 3-0-1 against Buffalo last season, with two games going past regulation and each team winning one in overtime.
Following a great start for both teams, the Capitals have been in freefall for the past few weeks, while the Sabres are playing through some tough injuries to keep pace with the competitive Northeast Division. Buffalo will begin a three-game homestand while the Capitals are leaving DC for a single game after going 2-1-0 at the Verizon Center.
After winning their first seven games of the 2010-11 campaign, the Capitals have had difficulty maintaining that pace. Following consecutive wins to start November, the team absorbed a 1-5-1 stretch that included a dismal 0-3-0 road trip. Washington appeared to turn the tide with consecutive home wins over Phoenix and Winnipeg, but the final game in a three-game homestand saw some troubling tendencies come back to the surface.
Against the Rangers on Friday, New York raced out to a 3-0 lead in the second period before goals from Troy Brouwer
and John Carlson
cut the deficit. But a goal from Brian Boyle late in the second period renewed the Rangers two-goal lead. Outshot 10-4 in the third, the Capitals allowed two more Rangers goals, including Ruslan Fedotenko’s second of the game, before ultimately dropping a 6-3 decision.
Buffalo also enjoyed a great start to their season, going 5-1-0 in October before a rash of injuries decimated its momentum in November. Despite the depleted roster, the Sabres managed to play well, winning five of six to start the month. But they were losers of three of their previous four when they descended on Columbus Friday night.
Friday night against the Blue Jackets, the Sabres slump continued as the Blue Jackets raced out to a 4-0 lead before Jhonas Enroth
was pulled in favor of Drew MacIntyre
, who made his second appearance of the season. Jordan Leopold
would provide the Sabres’ lone goal on the night before Rick Nash sealed the 5-1 victory with 5:53 remaining in the second period.
For the Caps, Alex Ovechkin
has three points spread over three games, while Nicklas Backstrom
has five points in the same span. John Carlson
also has five points in his current four-game streak. … For the Sabres, Leopold has three points in his last three games and Thomas Vanek
has nine points in his last nine.
For the Capitals, Mike Green
and John Erskine
are suffering with a strained arm and bruised shoulder, respectively. … Buffalo’s infirmary is a very crowded place. Tyler Ennis
(ankle), Ryan Miller
(concussion), Mike Weber
(upper body), and Tyler Myers
(wrist) are all on IR while Brad Boyes
, Cody McCormick
, and Patrick Kaleta
were out of the lineup on Friday in Columbus with various injuries.
There may be more than one reason for the Capitals’ recent troubles, but their defense deserves most of the blame. After allowing a miniscule 2.33 goals per game last season – the fourth-best average in the League – the Caps are currently allowing 3.19 this season, the seventh-worst total in the League. That number has only ballooned of late, as Washington has allowed 23 goals in their last five games, for a per-game average of 4.6.
The multiple walking wounded in Buffalo forced the team to call up their 2009 first-round pick Zack Kassian
from Rochester. Kassian was leading the Americans in scoring when he got the call and collected an assist in his first NHL action Friday night against Columbus.