March 3 vs. Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet, Versus Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Washington Capitals (41-13-8)
Buffalo Sabres (33-19-9)
After a 17-day Olympic break, the Washington Capitals are back in action on Wednesday night against the Sabres in Buffalo. The Caps start the final quarter of the 2009-10 season with their fourth straight road game. Washington dropped three straight (0-1-2) on the road prior to the Olympic break.
Although the condensed schedule of the Olympic season continues the rest of the way – the Caps will play 20 games in 40 days to finish up – coach Bruce Boudreau and his charges are anxious to get back to work on Wednesday.
“I think we all are,” says Boudreau. “It’s what we do. You want to play. It’s like coming back after training camp. Guys are anxious and they want to play. It will be at another level I’m sure come playoff time. But right now, 17 days off is enough.”
Wednesday’s game with the Sabres comes hours after the NHL’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Although the Caps boast the league’s best record and hold large leads in both the Southeast Division and the Eastern Conference standings, it’s possible the team could make a move or two heading up to the deadline.
“If we can make our team better, great,” says Boudreau. “If we can’t, I’m happy with what we have. It’s a double-edged sword. You want to have the best team in the world but sometimes the best move you have is by making no moves.”
With 90 points, the Caps are well on their way to setting a new franchise standard for the second straight season. While the Caps lead the league in goals scored, they rank 19th in the league with an average of 2.81 goals surrendered per game. Only one team below the Capitals in that category – the Pittsburgh Penguins – is currently among the top eight teams in either conference.
After reeling off 14 straight wins, the Caps are 0-1-2 in their last three games. In their last six games, Washington has surrendered 26 goals, including 17 at even-strength.
“Obviously that’s what we want to improve on, the defensive side of the game,” says Capitals forward Tomas Fleischmann, who was one of five Washington players to skate in the Vancouver Olympics. “The games that are 6-5 and 5-4, we cannot play like that in the playoffs. That’s what we have to work on right now and we’ll see how it goes. I think it’s going to be tough to sacrifice our offensive, but if we play good defensively we can play good offensively. I think the last 20 games can help us, before the playoffs.”
Any moves the Caps might make on Wednesday would likely be to shore things up in their own end of the ice. Given the team’s performance to date and the good chemistry that exists in the locker room, the possibly of playing a pat hand also makes sense.
“You don’t want to come in and alter or disrupt the team chemistry that you’ve built up over the entire season, or in this case over a couple of years with the young core group here,” says veteran center Brendan Morrison, who has moved twice at the trade deadline during his NHL career. “It’s almost a double-edge sword. When you’re on a contender like this, a team that you believe can win, and something happens where you get moved, it’s pretty disappointing. I think if you go from a team that might be in the bottom half of the league that looks like you’re not going to get in the playoffs and you get moved to a team that’s right in the hunt, right in the thick of things, you’re pretty excited.
“There are different ends of the spectrum to look at it. And when you factor in families and other things it takes it to another level. But just from strictly a playing point of view, at this time of year wherever you end up you want to be on a team that’s in the playoffs.”
Washington has eight road games remaining in 2009-10. The Caps need five wins in those eight games in order to establish a franchise record for most road victories in a single season. The current standard is 22 road wins.
Wednesday’s game closes out the season’s series between the Caps and the Sabres. Washington’s previous visit here this season did not go well. The Caps poured 35 shots on Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller, who performed so well for Team USA at the just-concluded Vancouver Olympic Games. Miller stopped all 35 of those shots to run his lifetime record against Washington to 10-5. He has three shutouts, a 2.59 GAA and a .912 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals.
Buffalo was back in action on Tuesday when it visited Pittsburgh. The Sabres fell by a 3-2 count, with Miller taking the night off in favor of back-up goaltender Patrick Lalime. Miller will be back between the pipes on Wednesday when Washington visits.
The Sabres rank 16th in the NHL with an average of 2.7 goals per game this season, so moves to bolster the team’s attack would seem likely if Buffalo is active in the hours leading up to Wednesday’s trade deadline.
Buffalo ranks second in the NHL’s Northeast Division, a single point behind Ottawa. The Sabres have three games in hand with the Senators. Buffalo is currently fifth overall in the Eastern Conference.
Although they lost on their previous visit to Western New York on Dec. 9, the Capitals have taken two of the three meetings between Washington and Buffalo this season.
“They’ve played us tough ever since I’ve been here,” says Boudreau of the Sabres. “They’re a team that I think is a very difficult opponent. I can say that probably right now about 12 teams, that could be our first- or second-round opponent.
“[The Capitals] know Buffalo is tough, they know Buffalo is good. They know they’ve got a great goaltender and a young defenseman [Calder Trophy candidate Tyler Myers] who is going to be outstanding. Playing in Buffalo is never an easy place to win. It will be tough.”