WASHINGTON, D.C. - In their first game against the Washington Capitals on Monday at First Niagara Center, the Buffalo Sabres were hampered by a pair of costly turnovers to the hottest offense in the League and an inability to solve the hottest goaltender.
In the conclusion of a home-and-home set on Wednesday night at Verizon Center, the Sabres will look to avoid the mistakes that cost them in the 2-0 loss on Monday with hopes that a cleaner game will lead to some additional chances of their own.
"I think we can play sharper – tape-to-tape passes, kind of supporting each other better – and work on using our speed and making their D turn," Sabres forward Jamie McGinn said. "They're a skilled bunch, but when you play against them, you want to make their D turn. It makes it really hard for them to do what they want to do."
Coverage on Wednesday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with puck drop set for 7 p.m.
Chad Johnson will start in net for the Sabres and oppose Braden Holtby, who made 31 saves in the shutout victory for the Capitals on Monday. Holtby has now posted a 15-0-1 record in his last 17 games with two shutouts, a 1.74 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage.
Like their goaltender, the Capitals have been nearly unbeatable in their last 17 games. The win over the Sabres improved their record to 15-1-1 in that stretch. On the season, they're off to a franchise-best 27-6-2 start.
"We look back to the first game against Washington in our building; there was a lot of the game we liked," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "We did some good things with our game and there are some things we didn't do as well.
"We're playing a really good team. We're playing, maybe, the best team in the League and certainly the best record in our conference. I think you take it as a measuring stick as to, what is the best in the League?"
READY TO RESPOND
With the teams playing each other twice in three days, the potential exists for bad blood to carry over from one game to the next. When you consider how the first game went between the Sabres and Capitals, it seems even more likely.
The animosity began when Nicolas Deslauriers delivered a hit near the boards in the neutral zone on Capitals forward Justin Williams. As Williams fell to the ice, he was hit in the mouth by Deslauriers' stick. Washington took exception, and fourth-line center Michael Latta challenged Deslauriers to a fight later in the game.
After exchanging a few blows, Deslauriers ended up on top. He skated to center ice and waved his arms emphatically to pump the crowd. Latta went to dressing room, and isn't expected to play on Wednesday.
Deslauriers took no issue with the fight – he said he would have done the same thing if in that position – but the Capitals expressed discontent with his celebration after the game. If a response comes Wednesday, Deslauriers said, he'll be ready.
"It can go both ways," Deslauriers said. "It can be nothing or it can be something. But for me, the biggest thing is just to be physical and I'm ready to respond to anything."
There was a notable change in the lineup on Wednesday morning, with centers Jack Eichel and Johan Larsson flip-flopping on their respective lines. Eichel will start the game between Zemgus Girgensons and Briand Gionta while Larsson will be flanked by Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis.
Bylsma said that the move was made to give all three lines "defensive posture." Larsson has been relied on for defensive matchups for the Sabres and with Washington being allowed the last line change as the home team, the Sabres coach hopes that balancing his lines defensively will minimize mismatches.
Bylsma said that who will sit as the 13th forward tonight will be a game-time decision. Marcus Foligno has been out five games since sustaining an upper-body injury, but said that he feels 100 percent.
"He's big, strong, physical, could be a dominant player with his size and skating ability," Bylsma said. "That's what, when Marcus gets an opportunity, we need to see from him."
Girgensons took the place of Matt Moulson on the Sabres' power play on Wednesday morning. Girgensons has been a part of the extra-man unit at various points and tipped-in one of his two goals this season on the power play against Detroit on Dec. 1.
Bylsma said he expects Girgensons to bring two key attributes to the power play.
"He's one of our best guys, probably, skating with speed through the neutral zone, attacking on our breakout, on our entry," the coach said. "And then the net-front presence that he is and can be … He was there 5-on-5 a couple times in the game [on Monday] and that's where we need him to be on the power play."
Here's what to expect from Buffalo's lineup on Wednesday:
88 Jamie McGinn – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane – 22 Johan Larsson – 63 Tyler Ennis
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 82 Marcus Foligno/26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark