The Washington Capitals host the Buffalo Sabres for the second time in six days on Friday night. This past Saturday, the Capitals defeated the Sabres 4-3 in a shootout, the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington and NBCSN for those outside of the Washington area beginning at 7 PM.
The Sabres will play the first of a back-to-back on Friday night. Immediately following the game against the Capitals, Buffalo will go back home to host the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night in their last game before the NHL’s mandated holiday break. Since the Sabres came to town for the first time a few days ago, the team beat the Boston Bruins 4-2 on Sunday before falling 5-2 to the Florida Panthers on home ice on Tuesday.
Buffalo is currently in a neck-and-neck race with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second spot in the Atlantic Division with just one point separating the two division rivals. The Sabres own an impressive 11-4-3 record at home but haven’t been able to translate that into success on the road as they are just 9-6-3 away from KeyBank Arena.
Center Jack Eichel leads the Sabres with 32 assists and 46 points entering Friday’s contest in the district. The 22-year old enters Friday’s game in Washington riding a seven-game point streak, where he’s tallied nine goals and 14 points in that span. He posted two goals when the Sabres played the Capitals six days ago. Forward Jeff Skinner’s 25 goals are second in the NHL.
The Sabres announced on Wednesday that they had terminated forward Patrik Berglund’s contract after he failed to report to the team. Acquired in the deal that sent forward Ryan O’Reilly from the St. Louis Blues on July 1, Berglund, 30, posted two goals, four points, and a +5 rating in 23 games with the Sabres this season.
Goaltender Carter Hutton, who is 13-9-2 with a save percentage of .917 and a goals-against average of 2.60, will likely start against Washington on Friday. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 2-2-2 with a save percentage of .876 and a goals-against average of 3.53. He made 35 saves in the Sabres’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Capitals on December 15.
The Capitals conclude a three-game homestand against the Sabres on Friday night. After beating Buffalo last Saturday, the team saw its five-game winning streak end with a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. Washington also starts a set of a back-to-back as they visit the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
Captain Alex Ovechkin saw his career-high six-game goal-scoring streak and 14-game point streak end in the 2-1 loss to the Penguins despite recording five shots on goal. During the streak, the 33-year old posted 17 goals and 23 points. Ovechkin also saw his six-game goal-scoring streak, where he tallied 10 goals including two hat tricks, end against the Penguins. He can be the first player in the NHL to hit 30 goals this season with a goal against the Sabres on Friday. Ovechkin posted a goal against the Sabres last Saturday.
Forwards Chandler Stephenson and Andre Burakovsky have sat three of the last four games and the past four, respectively. Burakovsky’s eight points are tied for the fourth-worst on the team and his -5 rating is the third-worst while Stephenson’s six points are the worst among Capitals forwards and his -9 rating is the worst on the team.
The Capitals’ 3.64 goals-per-game average ranks third in the NHL only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4.03 and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 3.65. The team has five players who average at least a point-per-game: Ovechkin (1.30), center Nicklas Backstrom (1.21), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (1.15), forward Tom Wilson (1.14) and defenseman John Carlson (1.09). Backstrom and Carlson co-lead the team with each other with 16 points on the power-play while Kuznetsov (15) and Ovechkin (12) are right behind them. Ovechkin leads the team with eight power-play goals. The Capitals’ power-play enters Friday’s game ranked sixth in the NHL with an efficiency of 25%.
Goaltender Braden Holtby, who is 13-8-2 with a save percentage of .911, a goals-against average of 2.86, and two shutouts this season, will likely start against the Sabres on Friday night. In his career against Buffalo, he is 8-3-1 with a save percentage of .906, a goals-against average of 2.62, and one shutout.
-In the month of December, the Capitals have a 53.75 shot attempt percentage at 5-on-5 (380 shots for-327 against), the fifth-best percentage in the NHL in that span. The 327 allowed shot attempts at 5-on-5 is the second lowest in the NHL (Carolina Hurricanes: 296 in seven games)
-The Capitals hold a 7-2-1 record this season in sets of back-to-back games, including 5-0-0 in the first game for the fourth best points percentage in the league; The Calgary Flames (4-0-0) is the only other undefeated team in the first game of a back-to-back
-The Capitals are 23-7-4 in their past 34 games against the Sabres
A Look Back In Time
The Sabres took 1-0 and 2-1 leads but the Capitals tied the game up with under seven minutes to go in regulation. The Capitals snapped a three-game losing streak in overtime on a goal from forward Marcus Johansson, who also tied the game. The win would be the first of six the Capitals would string together. Center Jay Beagle also scored for the Capitals. Holtby made 30 saves in the 3-2 win.
By Harrison Brown