November 13 vs. Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Washington Capitals (12-4-0)
Buffalo Sabres (5-9-3)
Washington makes a Saturday night visit to Buffalo to take on the Sabres for the first time in 2010-11. The game continues the Caps’ pattern of alternating home and road games this week, and it also begins a stretch of four games in which Washington will alternate games against Buffalo and Atlanta.
The Capitals are toting a six-game winning streak as they head to Buffalo. That run is one game shy of the longest in the league this season, a seven-game streak by the St. Louis Blues.
Thursday night’s 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning extended the Caps’ streak to half a dozen games. The Lightning was the 10th different Eastern Conference team Washington has faced this season, and the Bolts are the 10th different Eastern Conference team the Capitals have defeated.
Buffalo is No. 11 on that list. Washington is making an early season statement in defeating most conference foes the first time they come up on the schedule this season.
“I think it is a good statement,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’ve got some good players that are starting to wind it up and hopefully they can continue to do so.”
Alex Ovechkin has a scoring streak of eight straight games while Alexander Semin – who had a hat trick on Thursday against Tampa Bay – has scored in six straight. Nicklas Backstrom has 12 points (one goal, 11 assists) in his last six games and defenseman Mike Green just finished a run in which he scored a goal in four straight games.
After enduring a 13-game drought without a goal, right wing Mike Knuble has tallied in each of the last two games.
After the win over the Lightning, Knuble discussed the Caps’ habit of downing conference foes the first time they face them this season.
“There is no better time than immediately,” says Knuble. ”You just keep creating doubt. You just keep sending them out of here. ‘Come back another time, try again.’ We’re feeling good and they’re feeling a little bit of doubt and probably shaking their heads a little bit.”
Washington has scored at least three goals in six straight games and eight of its last nine. Offense from the blueline has had a hand in the Caps’ offensive surge. The Capitals have gotten at least one goal from a defenseman in each of the six games in the team’s current winning streak.
“You need offense from your defense to succeed, I believe,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You can’t be one-dimensional. It’s too easy to check and goals are so hard to come by. If you’re No. 1 in the league in scoring and you’re averaging less than three and a half goals a game, in 60 minutes that’s not a lot of goals in the whole scheme of things. But most teams are averaging in the twos [in goals scored]. So when you can get some offense from your defense, it’s an added bonus for sure.”
The Caps defense has contributed at least an assist to the attack in each of the last nine games, and Washington is 8-1 during that stretch. That run coincides with Mike Green’s return to the lineup after he missed three games with a shoulder injury.
“I think when you have your best defenseman out, everyone has to play different roles,” says rookie blueliner John Carlson. “Obviously, Greenie is a big part of that. He’s a big part of our defense and especially our offensive defense. I think we’re playing good and feeling good as a [defense] corps right now, and we’ll keep going with that.”
Prior to the current six-game winning streak, Washington had a rather ordinary 6-4 record. In those 10 games, the defensemen contributed one goal and 11 assists. During the life of the current six-game run, the Washington blueliners have chipped in with eight goals and 13 assists.
“That’s the good thing about this team,” observes Carlson. “If you make a harmless little breakout pass, you could have an assist just because of how skilled our players are going up [the ice] with the puck.”
Carlson believes the Caps’ puck-possession style and the size, speed and strength of the team’s forwards are also factors in the team’s blueline contributions to the attack.
“Our cycle is good now,” says Carlson, “and we’ve been talking about [the defensemen] throwing the puck down the wall and letting it feed behind the net and the forwards take it from there. I think that’s been working pretty well, and it gives us more offense because all their guys start collapsing and then [our forwards] can throw the puck up [to the blueline] and then we’re open for shots.”
The Capitals had the power play for a grand total of just 16 seconds in Thursday’s game against the Lightning, just long enough for Semin to notch the first goal of his hat trick. In going 1-for-1 on the night with the man advantage, Washington rose to a 21.7% efficiency rate on the season, good for seventh in the NHL.
Washington is 12th in the NHL with an 85.3% snuff rate on the penalty kill. After a terrific start, the Caps’ shorthanded outfit has allowed 10 goals in its last 10 games, and is clicking at just 76.7% during that span.
The Caps have climbed all the way to 12th in the league in face-off prowess with a 50.4% success rate on the season.
The Sabres rolled up 100 or more points for the third time in the last five seasons in 2009-10, but Buffalo is off to a tough start this season.
After earning a 2-1 road win over the Senators on opening night, Buffalo returned home for a four-game homestand. The Sabres went 0-3-1.
Back on the road for six of their next seven, the Sabres went 2-3-1 away from HSBC Arena, dropping a home ice decision to the Senators in between.
Once again, the Sabres returned home for a pair of games at the beginning of November. They lost both of those before embarking upon a successful 2-0-1 road trip that concluded with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
If you’ve been keeping up with the story, you know that Buffalo is still seeking its first home ice victory of the season as the Capitals hit town to start a stretch in which the Sabres play six of their next seven on home ice. Buffalo is an improbable 0-6-1 on the HSBC Arena sheet.
The Sabres rank in the bottom third of the league in most important team statistical rankings. Heading into Friday night’s NHL action, the Sabres are 22nd in goals scored, 25th in goals against, 23rd in penalty killing and 24th in power play efficiency.
The Buffalo power play has struck for multiple goals in the same game only once in the team’s first 15 games. The Sabres have had only five different power play goal-getters.
Buffalo is without a power play goal in its last four games, going 0-for-11 with the man advantage during that span. The Sabres are 1-for-24 with the extra man in their last seven games.
One thing the Sabres will have going for them is the return of Vezina Trophy-winning netminder Ryan Miller, who has been sidelined with a leg injury since Oct. 29.
Miller is 3-5-2 this season with a 2.71 GAA and a .903 save pct. Those numbers are nowhere near his Vezina numbers, but they’re a good bit better than those compiled by the duo of Patrick Lalime and Jhonas Enroth. That twosome has combined to go 2-4-1 with a 3.36 GAA and an .882 save pct. in 2010-11.
Notes: Rookie Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth is the first netminder in franchise history to post 10 wins in the team’s first 16 games of the season.