There isn't a team in the NHL right now as hot as the Washington Capitals, currently in the midst of a stretch in which their record is 14-1-1. Given the strength of the Buffalo Sabres' recent schedule, there may also be few teams as well prepared to face Washington as they are.
Buffalo's last opponent, the Boston Bruins, were in the middle of a similar stretch, having gone 11-2-3 in their last 16 games prior to a 6-3 loss to the Sabres on Saturday. The Sabres scored five unanswered goals in the third period of that one.
Before that, Buffalo snapped the L.A. Kings' six-game winning streak on Dec. 12 and the Detroit Red Wings' 13-game point streak on Dec. 14.
Last Saturday, they came within 35 seconds of beating the reigning Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks, but lost in a shootout.
"We've played some good teams in the last two weeks," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "We had six days between [due to a holiday break] but we play an L.A. team, we play an Anaheim team, we play a Chicago team and I think it's a big disappointment losing the Chicago game and not getting those two points.
"I think coming back after the break and playing a good Boston team and coming back and winning is a big step for our team. It is just one game but we are a team that we think we can beat a good team and we can win hockey games."
Washington might be Buffalo's best test yet, with Bylsma going so far as to call them "the best team in the League" at this point in time. Buffalo has them not once, but twice in the next three days. They begin a home-and-home set Monday night at First Niagara Center that will conclude Wednesday night in Washington.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
The Capitals' statistics are eye-popping in just about every category this season. They're second in the League in goals per game (3.12), first in goals against per game (2.12) and second on the power play (25.2 percent). Their 26-6-2 start is the best in franchise history.
"They're a very well-balanced team I think," Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said. "They've got a lot of offensive skill, they've got a big group, they move quickly and they've got a pretty solid back end and a good goaltender. There's nothing about this team that you can take lightly."
Alexander Ovechkin, who leads the team with 17 goals, may be the Capitals' most recognizable name, but they're getting contributions from all over the ice. In addition to Ovechkin, Washington has two other players who have already reached the 30-point mark (Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov each have 31) and five more who have scored 20.
The Capitals defense, meanwhile, has managed to limit opponents' scoring while contributing some offense of their own. Washington's defensemen have earned a point in 30 of the team's 34 games and rank fourth in the League with 75 points (15+60).
In goal, Braden Holtby – who will oppose Linus Ullmark on Monday – has put forth an elite season. He's 14-0-1 in his last 16 games with one shutout, a 1.85 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.
Bylsma is no stranger to the Capitals – they were the archrival of his Pittsburgh Penguins teams for the majority of his coaching tenure there. This, however, might be the most complete team he's seen come out of our nation's capital.
"I haven’t seen them in action to know if it's the case but back in '08, '09, that run for the Capitals, they were the scariest team to play against," he said. "They had the highest fire power that they were going to come at you with and I think this team's probably a better defensive team and a better structured team.
"It makes them probably the best team in the League right now and we have them for the next six periods so it's going to be a great challenge for us."
88 Jamie McGinn – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 63 Tyler Ennis
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
35 Linus Ullmark
31 Chad Johnson