The Washington Capitals host the Buffalo Sabres in the first meeting of the season between the two teams and the first in a span of six days at Capital One Arena. The Capitals went 2-1-0 against the Sabres a season ago. NBC Sports Washington will have the coverage beginning at 7 PM Eastern.
After finishing last in the NHL last season, the Sabres are in a tight race with the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division with only one point separating the two rivals and are also tied for fifth place in the NHL with the Calgary Flames with 42 points. Buffalo had a 10-game winning streak lately but lost five straight after that. They got back on track with two consecutive home wins coming into tonight’s tilt.
The Sabres had a busy offseason, highlighted by selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick in the draft. Dahlin, 18, is off to a solid start to his NHL career with two goals, 14 points, and a +5 rating in his first 32 games. In addition to getting the jewel of this past draft, the Sabres went out and acquired some big names, the best being forward Jeff Skinner, who is third in the NHL with 22 goals, second on the team with 32 points, and leads the team with a +19 rating. To bolster their forward depth even more, they got forward Connor Sheary, who has six goals and 13 points in 28 games this season; forward Tage Thompson, who has four goals and six points in 25 games; and forward Vladimir Sobotka, who has three goals and five points in 29 games.
Center Jack Eichel leads the team with 29 assists, 10 off of his career-high, and 39 points and comes into Saturday night’s game in Washington riding a four-game point-streak, where he has tallied five goals and seven points in that span. The 22-year old has posted at least 24 goals in each of his first four NHL seasons.
The Sabres just ended a four-game homestand and play three of their next four games on the road, including two in Washington. Buffalo has a very good 11-3-2 record on home ice but are just 8-6-2 on the road. They have not won a game in Washington since November 22, 2014.
The Sabres announced today that forward Patrik Berglund has been suspended indefinitely for failure to report to the team. He was acquired along with a first-round pick, a second-round pick, Thompson, and Sobotka from the St. Louis Blues for center Ryan O’Reilly on July 1. Berglund has yet to play a game with Buffalo yet.
Goaltender Carter Hutton will likely start against the Capitals on Saturday night. Hutton, who signed a three-year contract in Buffalo after leading the NHL with a save percentage of .932 with the St. Louis Blues last season, is 13-8-1 with a save percentage of .919 and a goals-against average of 2.53 this season. The 32-year old is 2-2-1 with a save percentage of .865 and a goals-against average of 3.67 in six career games against the Capitals.
The Capitals begin a three-game homestand on Saturday night against the Sabres and play the second game of a back-to-back after beating the Carolina Hurricanes 6-5 in a shootout last night at PNC Arena after trailing 4-1. The team goes for their fifth consecutive victory and the 12th in their past 14.
With a point tonight, captain Alex Ovechkin can set a career-high 14 game-point streak. Over his current streak, he has tallied 16 goals and 22 points. Ovechkin, 33, is coming off of back-to-back hat tricks against the Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night. He has nine goals over a five-game goal-scoring streak and leads the league with 28 goals and his team with 42 points.
The Capitals have five players who average at least a point-per-game: Ovechkin (1.35), center Nicklas Backstrom (1.26), forward Tom Wilson (1.20), who scored in his return after a three-game absence against the Hurricanes, center Evgeny Kuznetsov (1.20), and defenseman John Carlson (1.17).
Just before Friday’s game in Carolina, the team announced that defenseman Christian Djoos is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his left thigh. Prior to hosting the Sabres on Saturday, the team recalled defenseman Tyler Lewington from the AHL’s Hershey Bears. In 26 games with the Bears this season, the 24-year old has two goals, six points, 67 penalty minutes (leads the team), and a -8 rating. This is Lewington’s first call-up to Washington. Defenseman Jonas Seigenthaler, who tallied his first NHL point with an assist on one of Ovechkin’s goals on Friday night, will likely stay in the lineup, meaning it’s unlikely that Lewington will draw in.
Goaltender Pheonix Copley will make his first start in his NHL career against the Sabres on Saturday night. The 26-year old is 6-2-1 with a save percentage of .902 and a goals-against average of 2.95 this season. He has won each of his past three starts, most recently a 27-save outing in a 4-2 win on December 6 at the Arizona Coyotes.
-The Capitals have earned a point in 26 of their last 33 games against the Sabres (22-7-4)
-Center Travis Boyd has scored a goal in three consecutive games
-Center Nic Dowd has five assists in his last three games and 10 points (three goals) in his last 10 games. With Dowd’s 12 points, he’s now tripled his 2017-18 season total, split between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, in 29 fewer games
A Look Back In Time
After the Sabres struck first, forward Curtis Glencross buried a pass from defenseman Mike Green in front of the net a few moments later. Center Jay Beagle potted a rebound from Glencross past goaltender Matt Hacket a little more than five minutes into period number two to give the Capitals the lead. Ovechkin made it 3-1 midway through the second with a snipe from the office after getting it from Carlson. Wilson fed center Brooks Laich a few minutes later and Laich sniped it over the glove from the slot to extend the lead to 4-1. Forward Joel Ward buried a loose puck after getting it from Glencross at the doorstep on the power-play to make it 5-1 a few minutes into the third period. The Capitals would score one more for a 6-1 win.
By Harrison Brown