November 17 vs. Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm TV: CSN Plus (Channel Finder) Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Capitals Report/Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 pm on washingtoncaps.com
Buffalo Sabres (6-9-3)
Washington Capitals (13-4-1)
On the heels of a wild 6-4 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday, a well-deserved day off on Monday and a much-needed Tuesday practice – a session that Caps coach Bruce Boudreau called “businesslike” – the Washington Capitals are back in action on Wednesday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center.
Playing five games in a span of eight days – a stretch that concluded with Sunday’s win over Atlanta – the Caps went 4-0-1 and are in the midst of a 7-0-1 run overall. But Boudreau and his players could see that areas of the team’s game were slipping in the last couple games of that run.
“You never want to be satisfied,” says Boudreau. “You don’t want to wait until it slips to where you’re 0-3 for a week before you start correcting things. It’s pretty easy to go in and say, ’Yeah, we’re 4-0-1’ or whatever and everything is going as it is, but if you see mistakes suddenly it gets to the point where you’re not winning those games and it’s tough to get out of it. Today we’re trying to correct these things before they become actual problems.”
The Caps let two-goal leads evaporate three times in Sunday’s win, and they turned in a poor finish after a strong start in Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres in Buffalo, a loss that halted Washington’s winning streak at six.
“When we come back into our zone we’re swinging instead of going to spots,” says Boudreau when asked to identify some specific areas that need shoring up. “In the neutral zone we’re being lazy and we’re not getting up with the play. In other words, we’re spread out. If you’ve got five guys in a short area, then it’s tough to get through, but if it’s a longer area then it’s easier to make plays. Those are the things we wanted to go over on the video.
“Zone coverage, we wanted to make sure that we were tighter in our zone. They’ve gotten a couple of goals recently from the slot where we’ve had breakdowns. I wanted to do more but an hour the day before a game with three [games] in four [days coming up] was enough.”
As Boudreau mentions, Buffalo’s visit begins a stretch in which Washington will play three times in four nights, and also another run in which it must play five games in eight nights. That doesn’t leave much time for practice in between those contests.
“I think they’re little things that maybe to the average fan, maybe they don’t pick up,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “But to the trained eye and to us in here, we really notice. It’s just little things such as two feet here and two feet there. You think you have a guy covered and the puck comes to him, well you were right there but you weren’t right on him. Chipping a puck in, making sure it gets in; not just to the top of the circle but to below the circle. Taking a lazy penalty. Getting pucks out on the first try.
“As hockey players, we know when we’re playing well. Those things don’t happen. When you don’t get a chance to practice, you’re saving all your energy for games and you don’t get to practice much, you have little breakdowns like that. A nice day of rest is always good. Let the guys enjoy some time with their families and then come back excited and have a good work day.”
Washington is scoring goals, and scoring them in bunches. The Caps have averaged more than four goals per game over their last 11 contests. But after giving up as many as three goals just twice in the first 11 games of the season, the Caps have been nicked for three or more in six of seven games since.
“What happens is you get lazy,” says Boudreau. “When you’re scoring goals, you have a tendency to cheat to score goals. You look at all the teams that don’t score and are losing 2-1 and 3-1; they’re playing very tight defensively but they’re so tight they don’t score because they’re never taking that little advantage to score.
“And yet when teams that are scoring a lot of goals if they’re not playing sharp and they’re winning 6-4 for example, that means they’re cheating to get out of the zone too quick because they’re used to scoring, and they’re cheating on the power play because the power play was going good. Stuff that we were doing that we had to just get back and give our little heads a shake and take it from there.”
Washington ranks seventh in the NHL with a 21.9% power play success rate. The Caps’ penalty killing corps is 12th in the league with a kill rate of 84.2%. The Capitals have risen to 12th in the league in face-offs with a 50.7% winning rate on the dots.
The Caps 3-2 overtime loss in Buffalo on Saturday was the Sabres’ first home ice victory of the season. Buffalo has since defeated the Canucks at home, too. The Sabres are the only Eastern Conference team the Caps haven’t defeated this season, among those they’ve faced thus far.
“They’re a good team, they’ve got a lot of good players,” says Boudreau of the Sabres. “They won the division last year. They struggled at the beginning but they’re 4-0-1 in their last five.
“Confidence is such a big and scary thing at the same time. Now they believe that every close game, they’re going to win. Whereas probably when they were losing at the beginning of the year, every close game they thought they were going to lose, which is why losing streaks turn into winning streaks and winning streaks turn into losing streaks if you’re not careful.”
Boudreau believes that some of Buffalo’s recent additions are finally getting acclimated to the team’s system, and that acclimation and integration are leading to success on the ice.
“I think with them, it was a case of their new defensemen getting used to the way the Buffalo Sabres play. They’ve implemented three new defensemen into that system and they’re starting to get it now. And they’ve got [goaltender] Ryan Miller, and he’s as good as there is. It makes them a tough team to play against.”
Miller had missed two weeks of action before returning to the nets in Saturday’s win over Washington. Miller is 11-6 with a 2.51 GAA and a .915 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals. During his career, the former Michigan State standout is 5-2 with a 3.09 GAA and a .900 save pct. in eight starts at Verizon Center.
“They played a good game against us and they won in overtime [Monday] night, too,” notes Laich. “Obviously their group of guys is feeling good about themselves and they’ve turned their ship around. But we always talk around here that hockey games are about us and how we play.
“It doesn’t matter the opponent; there’ll be some slight adjustments for each opponent but ultimately the decision of the game is how we play, whether we play the right way or the wrong way. If we’re going to play with structure and be disciplined is going to determine if we’re going to win. We’re going to score goals but we have to play well defensively. They beat us in their building, and we’re looking for some redemption [Wednesday].”
Buffalo’s power play stands 28th in the NHL with a 10.8% efficiency rate. The Sabres are 23rd in the league in penalty killing with a kill rate of 78.1%. Buffalo is 27th in the league in the face-off circle with a 47.9% success rate on the draw.