November 25 vs. Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. and Two-Man Advantage pre-game show at 6:30, both on washingtoncaps.com
Buffalo Sabres (11-6-3)
Washington Capitals (13-5-6)
After a quick two-game tour north of the border, the Capitals return home for their traditional Thanksgiving Eve home game. This year’s opponent is the Buffalo Sabres, in town for their first visit of the season and the first of their four 2009-10 meetings with the Capitals.
The Caps dropped both games on their recently completed trip, but picked up a point in each. On Wednesday night against Buffalo, the Caps will be looking to get back in the win column. They’re currently lugging a three-game winless streak (0-1-2), matching their longest winless run of the season.
On Monday in Ottawa, a patchwork Washington lineup took to the ice and it forged a 3-1 lead after the game’s first 40 minutes. The Caps played penalty-free hockey for the game’s first two periods, but took three minor fouls in the third. One of those infractions led to the Sens’ Alexandre Picard scoring the game-tying goal on an Ottawa power play. The Caps lost by a 4-3 count in overtime.
The Caps have held the lead in the second period or later in all 24 games they’ve played this season, but they’ve managed to put only 13 of those 24 games into the win column.
“I think anytime you’re in situations and it keeps happening,” begins Washington defenseman Mike Green, “it’s in your head. Maybe as a team it’s in our head that when we’re going into the third period whether we get nervous or we sit back and try to hang on to our lead, instead of going forward and pushing and trying to score more goals is maybe a downfall for us. We know how to win games in the third period. We’ve done it in the past. We really have to regroup here and focus on the situation at hand.”
Picard’s game-tying tally was the 14th power play goal surrendered by the Caps in the third period or later this season. Washington has been shorthanded twice as much in the third period as it has in the first period this season, and the Caps have allowed just one first-period power-play goal all season.
“Obviously there’s something wrong with it,” says Boudreau of the team’s third-period penalty-killing. “We’re languishing in the bottom third of the league. But it’s funny how it happens. You get no penalties called on you [for 40 minutes]. And very rarely in today’s game do you go without a penalty being called. I honestly believe that [the officials] look and say, ‘No penalties called? We’ve got to give them one.’ Because every game we seem to get one that’s a phantom. I watched very closely and I didn’t see what [Alex Ovechkin] did to deserve a [roughing] penalty [Monday] night.
“Those things are going to happen. We’ve had three or four games now that we’ve come into the third period with no penalties being called against us and then two or three or four, boom-boom-boom. I think we’ve got to have a little bit better composure on that. And the other teams, when we’re getting the penalties called are usually losing. So they’re pushing a little harder. We’ve got to learn to live with it if we want to stay in the position we’re in.”
A dose of discipline and more focused penalty killing would be a start, but the Caps also need to develop more of a killer instinct and stop letting games slip away late.
“We knew [the Senators] were going to come out [hard],” laments Boudreau. “We knew we had to keep our sticks off the guys. But … we stopped playing. Anytime you stop playing and hope to play solid defense, you’re going to get beat. You have to be proactive and keep going at them. The prevent defense keeps you from winning. That’s all it does.
“I think the guys wanted to play so solid, they didn’t want to make a mistake. So consequently they didn’t move their legs. And when another team is moving their legs and you’re not moving yours, they’re going to have the puck in your zone all night.”
Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in goal for Washington, getting a third straight start for the first time in his young career. Varlamov has faced more than 35 shots in each of his last two starts. Even with Monday’s overtime loss, Varlamov sports a 12-1-3 career record along with a 2.50 GAA and a .917 save pct.
“We have to be honest,” says Boudreau. “Varly is playing pretty good. He’s got the net and he’s saying, ‘I want the net.’ Jose [Theodore] is ready to play, too. He has been practicing hard and working hard. I think he is mentally focused to play. If he’s back to the form he was in October, then great."
Washington’s lengthy list of ailing and injured is beginning to shrink. Defenseman Milan Jurcina is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday after a two-week absence. Blueliner Shaone Morrisonn is questionable after having missed the last three games with an upper body injury.
Teen-aged blueliner John Carlson and rookie right wing Andrew Gordon were returned to Hershey after three and two games, respectively, with the parent club.
The Sabres have been idle since Saturday when they absorbed a 5-3 setback to the Senators in Ottawa. Buffalo has dropped three straight games (0-2-1), its longest skid of the season.
Backup goaltender Patrick Lalime got the start for the Sabres on Saturday for just the second time this season. Workhorse Ryan Miller, the likely No. 1 netminder for Team USA at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is a virtual lock to be in goal for Buffalo on Wednesday when the Sabres visit the Phone Booth.
Miller’s 1.97 GAA leads the NHL and his .931 save pct. is second only to Antero Niittymaki of the Tampa Bay Lightning (.936).
Miller, the cousin of former Capitals Kelly, Kevin and Kip Miller, is 9-3 lifetime against Washington. Ryan Miller has two shutouts, a 2.65 GAA and a .908 save pct. in his career against the Capitals.
Miller’s netminding heroics have kept the Sabres near the top of the Northeast Division standings all season. Buffalo has averaged 2.6 goals per game, 11th among Eastern Conference teams and 22nd in the NHL.
The Sabres have allowed just 2.5 goals per game, third among Eastern Conference clubs and seventh in the league.
“Buffalo plays well against us,” says Green. “They have a good record against us and every time they come in our building they play really well and make it difficult on us to succeed. After this last weekend and what we’ve gone through. We are going to play well tomorrow. We’re definitely going to make it tough on them.”
“We know they’re a good team and they’ve lost a couple in a row and they haven’t played since Saturday,” says Boudreau. “So we expect them to come in and be great. Ryan Miller will be in net. He doesn’t give up a lot of goals. His last game he gave up six, which is an aberration for him.
“We know we’re catching a tiger by the tail [Wednesday]. We better be ready.”