Time is running out on the Washington Capitals if they want to make a run at a playoff spot. Today at least they’ll face a team that knows exactly how they feel.
The Buffalo Sabres are one of only two teams below the Caps in the Eastern Conference standings, but they at least seem to be trending in the right direction at this critical juncture. Buffalo is 4-3-3 over its last 10 games; not great, but definitely better than the way it started the year.
One of the problems is that Ryan Miller hasn’t been quite the force he’s been in previous seasons, with a goals against average closer to two than three and a sub-.500 record. Thomas Vanek started 2013 incredibly hot, and even though he hasn’t been able to keep up the pace, he still leads the Sabres in scoring. He’s gotten some help from both Jason Pominville and Cody Odgson, who have contributed 10 and nine goals respectively.
But recent history isn’t on the Sabres on their side, as they’ve won just once in their last seven trips to Washington. That means they might be just the antidote to the Capitals’ latest funk, which has seen them lose four of their last five games. Things hit rock bottom Saturday in Boston, when the Caps were completely bullied by the Bruins and only avoided a shutout due to a fortunate bounce of a Mulan Lucic pass.
To make matters worse, the one area that has been a fairly consistent strength during a turbulent season has suddenly hit the skids. The Capitals power play unit, so dangerous earlier in the year, has gone 4-for-27 over the last nine games. Goals haven’t been easy to come by five-on-five either, leading to a bunch of line shuffling. Aaron Volpatti was the latest skater to audition on the top line beside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but Adam Oates has shown a willingness to change things up mid-game if he feels it necessary.
The defense could still be down three regulars, as Mike Green, John Erskine and Tomas Kundratek are all doubtful or out. Jack Hillen returned to action to play just his second game of the season on Saturday, and either he or Tom Poti will likely be in the lineup. Braden Holtby is expected to start in net since Michal Neuvirth played against the Bruins.
Since the Caps are about to play seven of their next eight on the road, it only magnifies how important games like this are. The 2013 season isn’t a lost cause just yet, but failing to come away with points against a kindred spirit in disappointment could make it that way in a hurry.
Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals
Start time: 7 pm EDT
TV: NBC Sports Network