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Sabres' top scorer returns vs. Capitals

by Mike Battaglino

SABRES (12-26-5) at CAPITALS (22-16-6)


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

Season series: This is the second of three games. The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 29.

Big story: Sabres top scorer Cody Hodgson and forward Ville Leino returned from injury to practice Saturday and are expected to play.

Team Scope:

Sabres: Hodgson (upper body) has not played since Dec. 19 (eight games) but leads the team with 19 points and is tied for the lead with eight goals.

"I'm really excited. It's great," Hodgson told the Sabres website Saturday. "The team's been getting a lot of points, especially at home, so it's good to watch and learn some things about the team and how I can fit in a little better."

Leino missed three games with a lower-body injury.

"You don't want players to get hurt, but once in a while when they do and they have to rest their bodies, they come back with some renewed energy," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. "They seem both ready to go today."

Hodgson centered a line with Steve Ott and Matt D'Agostini. Leino played with Brian Flynn and Linus Omark.

The Sabres announced that center Mikhail Grigorenko would be loaned to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but his agent told The Associated Press the 19-year-old would not report.

Goalie Ryan Miller will start. Defenseman Tyler Myers will serve the second of a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Dainius Zubrus on Jan. 4.

Capitals: Washington has 50 points in 44 games. Last season, the Capitals had 50 points in 44 games, but needed an eight-game winning streak to get there.

"We've touched on it a little bit," defenseman John Carlson told Monumental Network. "For a team like us that is so talented and has all the guns that we need, we've got goaltending and defense, we just need to put it together.

"And that's our thing, it's about us, it's not about the other team. I think we did it last year, too, when we went through a little bit of a slump and then we came out of that and we kept rising. That's our goal here, and I think everyone knows that we're capable of it, and it's time to do it."

The Capitals were 0-5 in one-goal games decided in regulation before defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 Thursday and the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 Friday.

"Obviously you'd like to have games in the bank in the second or third period and not have to worry about battling games to the end," Carlson said. "But maybe that's what we need right now is just a little character check, and I think we've shown that the past two games."

Philipp Grubauer likely will be back in goal after Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth started the past two.

Who's hot: Ott has an assist in each of his past two games. D'Agostini has a goal and an assist in his past two games. … Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has five points in a four-game point streak. Center Nicklas Backstrom has four points in a four-game streak.

Injury report: Sabres forward Cody McCormick (upper body) practiced for the first time since sustaining the injury Dec. 17. Forward Drew Stafford (upper body), forward Kevin Porter (undisclosed) and defenseman Henrik Tallinder (upper body) skated before practice. … Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen (tibia surgery) is out.

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