The Washington Capitals, minus Alexander Ovechkin, head to Buffalo for a Saturday night match-up with the Sabres. The Sabres (6-2-2) come into Saturday nights game having lost three straight. The Capitals (5-3-1) will try and build on the win against Nashville, a 4-3 shootout victory, from Tuesday night. This will mark the second straight game that the Capitals will be without the services of Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin remains in Russia with his ailing grandfather and is not expected to return to practice until Monday.
Alex Semin, who had a goal, an assist, and a shootout goal against Nashville on Tuesday, continues to lead the Ovechkinless Capitals. Semin is currently tied for the league lead in points (16: 8G, 6A), with fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin. Tom Poti is also expected to return to the lineup against Buffalo, which should help the Capitals cut down on Mike Green's minutes. Poti will also help the Capitals improving penalty-kill. Poti will be paired with Jeff Shultz. Poti's wellness means that the Capitals have sent Tyler Sloan back down to Hershey. Sloan played admirably in his four games with the Capitals, scoring his first NHL goal the other night in Dallas. You can expect to see more of Tyler, as the season progresses. The Capital's power-play unit continues to improve it now ranks 16th (17.8%), while the penalty-kill continues to do the same, ranked 20th (78.8%).
Buffalo looking to get off their three game losing streak, will try and pick up a win at home, before heading to New Jersey on Monday. The Sabres leading scorer this year is Thomas Vanek (12 pts: 9G, 6A). The Sabres are an extremely fast team with a lot of talent, including guys like Maxim Afinogenov, Jason Pominville, and Ryan Miller. The Sabres power-play has been very good this year ranking eighth (21.4%). This should be a good test for the Capitals to see just how much have they really improved on the PK early in the season. The Buffalo penalty-kill is even better ranking third (88.6%) and again this should be a good barometer for the Caps to measure their power-play against.
The lines should look the same as they did against Nashville on Tuesday, the only exception being the addition of Poti and return of Sloan. Jose Theodore should get the start. The Capitals have had a pretty easy week, only two games, and they don't play again until Tuesday, in Ottawa.
The Capitals will be looking to do exactly as Tampa did on Tuesday night, pepper Ryan Miller with a lot of shots. Buffalo gave up 45 shots to Tampa last night, in a 5-2 loss to the Lightning. Shots on the road this year for the Capitals have not come easily, so it will be important for them to throw a lot of rubber at Buffalo, in order to have a chance. The Capitals special teams play will also need to continue to improve in order for the Caps to remain towards the top of the southeast division standings. Finally, it will be important for the Capitals defensemen to not get caught up ice with all the speed that Buffalo possesses.