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Capitals-Sabres Preview @NHL

The Washington Capitals found their way once without their leader. On Saturday night at Buffalo, they'll have to do it again.

Still in Russia with his ailing grandfather, reigning league MVP and scoring champ Alex Ovechkin will miss the Capitals' game against the Sabres and isn't expected back until next week.

"I don't anticipate seeing him until Monday's practice," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday. "That's what I'm looking at right now, unless something happens that we're unaware of."

Without Ovechkin for the first time in 204 games, the Capitals (5-3-1) defeated visiting Nashville 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday.

"Obviously, we miss Ovie. Our hearts are with him, and what he's dealing with," said Brooks Laich, who took Ovechkin's spot against the Predators. "But we want to be known as the Washington Capitals - a good hockey team, not just a team with one or two good players."

Making Ovechkin's absence easier for Washington is the outstanding play of left wing Alexander Semin, who had a power-play goal and an assist Tuesday. Semin leads the team with eight goals, eight assists and 16 points.

"Obviously, (Ovechkin) is the star of our team, but Alex Semin is, I think, the best player in the league right now," Laich added. "Everything he touches turns to gold and goes in the net."

Semin's performance is in stark contrast to last season when he managed only one goal in his first eight games before finishing with 26 goals and 42 points in an injury-plagued year.

"I have no idea, really. I just go out there and play. It's impossible to describe why it's going the right way," Semin said through a Russian reporter who informally serves as his interpreter.

Semin has no goals and only one assist in eight career games against Buffalo.

Dave Steckel and Viktor Kozlov also scored for the Capitals, winners of two straight following a three-game skid.

"I think we have great leaders and great character," Steckel said. "Anytime you're missing probably the best player in the NHL, you're going to take a hit. But as much as Alex is the focus of this team, we wanted to make sure we could prepare the same way and come out with the same result."

Washington will have the services of defenseman Tom Poti on Saturday after he missed five games with a groin injury.

"Ready to go," Poti said on Friday. "It felt good enough to go tomorrow."

Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore has lost four consecutive starts at Buffalo, last winning there on Jan. 14, 2000 with Montreal.

Buffalo (6-2-2) is hoping for a different result after losing its third straight on Thursday - 5-2 at home to Tampa Bay.

"We're not making plays that are connecting," said Ryan Miller, who entered Thursday's game with a 5-0-1 record and a 1.60 GAA before allowing five goals on 40 shots. "It's not the kind of hockey we want to play."

Miller had won seven straight decisions against the Capitals before a 3-1 home loss on March 5. He is 7-2-0 with a 2.76 goals-against average lifetime versus Washington.

Thomas Vanek scored his team-leading ninth goal for Buffalo, which has totaled only five goals during its three-game skid after registering three or more in five of its first seven contests.

The Sabres outscored the Capitals 16-10 as they won three of four meetings last season. The teams split two matchups in Buffalo.

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