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Slumping Sabres visit banged-up Capitals

by John Kreiser /

SABRES (12-6-2) at CAPITALS (13-5-6)

Last 10 -- Sabres 4-5-1; Capitals 5-3-2

Season series -- The teams are meeting for the first time this season -- and it's the first of three games between the two between now and Dec. 23. The Sabres and Caps split four games last season, with each club winning twice. The Caps have had more trouble beating Buffalo than just about anyone else: They are 35-76-15-2 against Buffalo since joining the NHL in 1974.

Big story -- Both teams are coming off losses at Ottawa -- the Sabres lost 5-3 on Saturday, while Washington blew a 3-1 lead in the third period and lost 4-3 in OT. Each has been struggling after a great start: Washington is 1-2-2 in its last five games after winning the previous four, though the Caps still share the Eastern Conference lead with Pittsburgh. Buffalo, playing the second of a three-game road trip, is 0-2-1 in its last three.

Team Scope:

Sabres -- Buffalo has had three days off since the loss at Ottawa on Saturday to try to figure out what's been going wrong. After a fast start, the Sabres have dropped behind the Senators in the Northeast Division race by allowing 13 goals in their last three games. Backup goaltender Patrick Lalime surrendered five on 26 shots against the Senators, and there's been speculation that the Sabres might be looking to upgrade behind Ryan Miller.

But Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said his team's problems are deeper than that.

"I don't think we even need to focus on goaltending," Ruff said. "I think the focus has to fall on our 5-on-5 play."

Capitals -- Program sales figure to be brisk at the VerizonCenter. The Capitals are so banged up that they've had to call up a bunch of youngsters from their AHL team in Hershey.

Rookie Jay Beagle, one of the callups, scored his first NHL goal at Ottawa after earning his first point with an assist in his season debut, a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

"You score to win," Beagle said. "I scored but at the same point you're disappointed with the loss so it's kind of a bitter feeling."

Who's hot -- With injuries providing more and better ice time, Washington center Brendan Morrison has stepped up with 4 goals and 4 assists in his last nine games. … Buffalo's Thomas Vanek has points in five of his last six games (2 goals, 4 assists).

Injury report -- Buffalo had everyone at practice on Tuesday; in contrast, the Caps are riddled with injuries. Right wing Alexander Semin has missed four straight games because of a wrist injury and is day to day, as are defensemen Milan Jurcina (lower-body injury), Shaone Morrisonn (upper-body injury) and Tom Poti (upper-body injury), along with right wing Boyd Gordon (back). Forwards Mike Knuble (broken finger) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw) are out for a while longer.

Stat pack -- Buffalo is 8-2-0 on the road against the Capitals since the start of the 2003-04 season. The Sabres have won 15 of the last 20 meetings in the series. … Miller, the NHL leader with a 1.97 goals-against average, is 5-0-0 with a 2.91 GAA in six road games against the Capitals.

Puck drop -- The Caps are glad to be home after going home with single points in losses at Toronto and Ottawa -- though they've never done well against the Sabres. Each team may feel it's catching the other at the right time.

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