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Sabres emphasize defense entering meeting with Capitals

Ullmark to start in matchup of first and second-place teams

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Sabres made the most of their October. They went 9-2-2 for 20 points, the second-best opening month to any season in franchise history. That places them in a tie for second place in the NHL standings. 

They open November against the one team ahead of them. The Washington Capitals went 9-2-3 to set their own franchise record for points in an opening month, placing them one point ahead of the Sabres entering tonight's tilt at Capital One Arena. 

With both teams employing new, aggressive systems this season, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger emphasized defensive play as the potential difference maker tonight.

"It's certainly the responsibility with the puck," Krueger said. "I'm speaking about how we'd like to tighten things defensively but being consistently responsible with the puck is still something we need to learn and understand when risk is worth it and when not, how to manage leads and areas of improvement. 

"Both teams tonight are going to play on their toes. It's going to be an excellent hockey game, I'm sure, with a lot of opportunities going both ways. We just need to make sure we're the better defensive team today."

The Capitals rank third in the NHL this season with an average of 3.79 goals per game. Alex Ovechkin has been himself, tied for third in the league with 11 goals. John Carlson is coming off a historic month in which he tallied 23 points (7+16), the second-most productive month by a defenseman in NHL history. 

The Sabres, meanwhile, have the sixth-best mark in the league with an average of 2.46 goals against per game. They have had three days between games for the first time this season after playing 13 contests in 26 days, and Krueger said he hopes to see their renewed energy show in their defensive play.

"Defensively, we need to just tighten the spaces again," he said. "We're working in periods of excellent defense, but not necessarily consistently rights through the games. I think that was something that started, it's percentage points we're talking about here from a coaches' perspective and we want to get those back."

Linus Ullmark will start in net. Read about the measures Ullmark has taken to improve his mental game in our feature from Tuesday. 

Neither defenseman Brandon Montour (hand) nor forward Jimmy Vesey (upper body) will play. Both players remain day-to-day and will be re-evaluated Saturday morning prior to the Sabres' home game against the New York Islanders.

Pregame coverage for tonight's game begins at 6:30 p.m. You can also listen live on WGR 550, with puck drop set for 7. 

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