November 26 vs. Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1500AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 2 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Bruce Boudreau at 5 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (12-8-1)
Buffalo Sabres (12-9-1)
After winning two of three contests in a three-game homestand, Washington finishes up a busy week with a quick trip to Buffalo for its first meeting of the season with the Sabres on Saturday. The game is the fourth in six nights for the Capitals.
Washington staggered home from a fruitless (0-3) three-game road trip to win the first two games of the homestand over Phoenix and Winnipeg, respectively. But the Caps couldn’t complete the home sweep on Friday, falling 6-3 to the New York Rangers in a matinee match.
“We were too slow,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of Washington’s Friday performance against the Rangers. “We were soft. We weren’t making smart plays. We weren’t really helping each other in getting open and stuff like that. If you’re not working hard for each other, you’re not going to be successful and we weren’t doing that.”
The Caps went into Friday’s game in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points ahead of seventh-place Buffalo and the eighth-place Rangers.
“We just didn’t have jump,” said Caps right wing Troy Brouwer of Friday’s game. “And especially against a team like we played tonight, they play a tough, hard game. They don’t give you a lot of room on the ice and you have to work for everything that you get. We just weren’t winning battles tonight.”
Going into Saturday’s game against the Sabres, the Caps are part of a four-team logjam in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. Along with the Rangers, Buffalo and New Jersey, the Capitals are one of four teams occupying the 6-9 spots in the Eastern Conference.
Washington is five points out of first place in the conference, and five points out of 14th place in the conference.
Defense has to be the Capitals’ main concern of late. Washington came into the season with strong goaltending and defense, on paper anyway. Those assets manifested themselves nicely through the first seven games of the season when the Capitals reeled off seven straight wins while allowing an average of just 2.28 goals per game.
Since then, the Caps have struggled mightily in their own end of the ice. Washington has gone 5-8-1 in a 14-game stretch after its perfect start, and the Caps have allowed a grisly total of 3.64 goals per game in the process.
Alarmingly, Washington is giving up goals in bunches. In six of its nine losses it has been victimized for three or more goals in a span of less than eight minutes. That was the case again on Friday when the Rangers tallied three times in a stretch of 4:18 to break open a 0-0- game.
“That’s just a complete defensive zone breakdown,” said Brouwer. “We all have jobs to do. It’s not man-on-man; it’s being in the right areas and when a guy is in your area, you’ve got to make sure you’re covering him. For us, it started with us bringing the puck back way too much. Instead of getting pucks forward, getting pucks deep, we brought pucks back and just gave them opportunities to create a forecheck.”
On the season, Washington has allowed an average of 3.19 goals per contest, 27th in the league. Even Columbus (3.18) has edged ahead of the Capitals in that department. Only Carolina, the New York Islanders and Ottawa are south of the Caps in average goals against per game.
In the last 50 games of the 2010-11 season, the Capitals were dented for four or more goals seven times, and they allowed more than four goals just twice. This season, the Caps have already had eight games in which they’ve allowed four or more goals, and six games in which they’ve allowed more than four.
Currently, the Caps have surrendered three or more goals in seven straight games and nine of their last 10. This is the first time in more than four years the Caps have permitted three or more goals in as many as seven straight games; they’re 2-4-1 during that stretch and they’ve been outscored by a combined 28-16 in those seven games.
The last time Washington endured such a stretch of defensive mediocrity was a nine-game stretch from Feb. 25 through March 15, 2007. The Capitals went 0-6-3 while getting outscored by a combined 35-20 in those nine contests.
Buffalo is a bit banged up at the moment. The Sabres are missing several regulars, and it’s been evident in recent results. The Sabres are 2-4-1 in their last seven contests, and only two of the Sabres’ last five wins have come in regulation.
The main missing man for the Sabres is goaltender Ryan Miller, who has been sidelined since suffering a concussion in a collision with Boston’s Milan Lucic two weeks ago.
With Miller out, the Sabres have gone to Jhonas Enroth between the pipes for each of the last six starting assignments. After winning each of his first five starts prior to Miller’s injury, Enroth is 2-3-1 in six starts since. He was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 shots in 24 minutes of work in Buffalo’s 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Friday.
Enroth has one career start against the Capitals. He surrendered five goals on 35 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss to Washington at Verizon Center last April 2.