March 17 vs. Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet, NBCSN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Buffalo Sabres (10-14-4)
Washington Capitals (11-15-1)
Washington makes a quick stop at home on Sunday to do some laundry and to host the Buffalo Sabres. Sunday night’s game against Buffalo is one of just two Caps home games in a span of 22 days. With a regulation win over Buffalo, the Caps can leapfrog the Sabres in the Eastern Conference standings. The Sabres come to town with a one-point lead over 14th-place Washington.
After hosting the Sabres on Sunday, the Caps are right back on the road on Monday when they depart for their longest trip of the season, a weeklong journey that takes them to Pittsburgh, Winnipeg and Manhattan.
The Caps are returning from a split of a two-game road trip. Washington fell into a 0-2 hole in the first period of each of the games on the trip, but it rebounded to take a 3-2 decision from the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday. Washington wasn’t so fortunate on Saturday in Boston as the Bruins rolled to a convincing 4-1 win over the Capitals.
In Saturday’s loss, the Caps surrendered three even-strength goals to Boston, with each coming from the center of the ice in high-scoring areas, areas Washington generally prides itself on protecting.
After winning eight of 11 games, Washington has now dropped four of its last five contests. The Capitals have been outscored by a combined 19-7 in those five games.
“Only because I feel like we’re a little snake-bit,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We’ve had a lot of chances. The power play could be better. I’m not worried about production. It will be there. You go through stretches.”
The Caps have lost two straight on Verizon Center ice, having dropped games to the New York Rangers and the Carolina Hurricanes in the District before embarking on the just-completed trip that took them to Raleigh and Boston.
“It’s really tough,” says Caps center Marcus Johansson. “We need the wins. We’re a little behind here, and we need the wins to be able to make the playoffs. We’ve got to find a way to win these tight games. That’s the way it is.”
Michal Neuvirth started in goal for Washington on Thursday in Raleigh, his first start on over a month. Neuvirth collected his second win of the season against the Canes, and he also earned another start on Saturday afternoon in Boston.
Neuvirth couldn’t be faulted for the goals the Bruins scored in their 4-1 win over the Caps, but expect to see Braden Holtby back in goal on Sunday for the Caps against Buffalo. Holtby’s last start came in the Capitals’ 3-0 home ice loss to Carolina last Tuesday.
“We’ll figure out a way to bounce back,” says Oates of having to face the Sabres a day after falling to the Bruins on the road. “
Sunday marks the second of Buffalo’s two visits to Verizon this season. Washington victimized the Sabres for its first win of the season at the Phone Booth, a 3-2 decision back on Jan. 27.
The Sabres hosted the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, taking a 4-3 overtime setback on Kyle Turris’ tally in the extra session. Buffalo bolted to a 2-0 first-period lead over Ottawa, but gave it all back and then some when the Sens scored three times in the second. The Sabres scraped out a point on Drew Stafford’s third-period goal before Turris netted the game-winner on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller at 3:54 of overtime.
Earlier this season, the Sabres jettisoned longtime head coach Lindy Ruff, who had been behind the Buffalo bench since 1997. The last time the Sabres visited Washington with a coach other than Ruff at the helm was in 1996-97, when Ted Nolan was the Buffalo bench boss.
Ron Rolston took over as the Sabres’ coach after Ruff was dismissed on Feb. 20. Since then, the Sabres are 4-4-3 with two of those triumphs coming in shootout fashion. Buffalo is last in the Northeast Division, a spot the Sabres haven’t found themselves in at season’s end since 2003-04. Even then, Buffalo finished with a semi-respectable 37-34-7-4 record.
On Friday, Buffalo returned 18-year-old rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko to Quebec of the QMJHL. Grigornenko was the 12th player chosen overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, and he made the Sabres out of training camp this season. Grigorenko had a goal and four assists in 22 games with Buffalo this season, averaging 9:44 per night in ice time. He was a healthy scratch for five games.
In keeping him in the NHL for more than six games this season, the Sabres burned the first year of Grigorenko’s three-year entry level contract.
Buffalo ranks among the bottom third of the NHL this season in goals scored, goals against, power play and penalty killing. The Sabres’ 10.9% power play is currently the weakest in the NHL.