If at first you don't succeed, try again. Buffalo was shutout 2-0 in Washington on Nov.25 and responded with a 3-0 victory two weeks later to even the season series. Beating the Capitals is one thing, holding them off the board totally is another as it was the first time in 11 months and the one instance this year that Washington has been shutout. Ryan Miller made a few unreal saves and Alex Ovechkin wasn't given much time or space.
What sort of feeling does that create for Washington heading into this match-up? With the home crowd on their side, the Capitals will be shooting furiously looking to get a quick goal and then add to it. But the Sabres have been resilient all season making believers out of hockey's elite squads.
Ten thoughts on the contest below.
- I know this is becoming common but Ryan Miller deserves a bullet on his own. A 21-7-2 record, .938 save percentage, 1.89 goals against average and four shutouts have the Michigan native hearing talks about a Vezina Trophy and Hart Memorial Award. Can you think of a player who has been more valuable to his club at this point? I didn't think so.
- It's hard to be considered a stud among a group like Washington's but Tomas Fleischmann is in his own right. With 14 goals in 25 games, he's registered only 51 shots for a 27.5 shooting percentage; tops in the league. In other words, Alex Ovechkin is the sole Capital he's trailing in goals and he's played less games than guys like Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. Stud.
Nathan Paetsch scored his first goal in nearly a year at Toronto becoming the 20th Sabre to light the lamp this season. A fourth line forward because of Buffalo`s defensive commodities, he did the simple thing by getting the puck on net and it paid off. It may be the role he has to play but I haven`t heard any complaints.
- Both powerplays are struggling with Washington converting three times in their last 23 opportunities and Buffalo falling to 27th in the league altogether. Thankfully, the penalty kill continues to prevail ranked sixth and the Sabres must pressure the Capitals' man-advantage.
- Assuming that Jose Theodore starts, his 9-13-1 career record against Buffalo isn't the best of signs for Washington. Their scoring resourcefulness has bailed out poor goaltending on numerous nights however, Theodore must hold his end of the bargain if the team is to get by Miller and the rest of the Sabres.
- Derek Roy accumulated his third game-winner of the year against the Maple Leafs tying Clarke MacArthur for the team lead. With 28 points in 35 games, it's become clear who will lead Buffalo offensively as the pint-sized center has gotten increasingly dependable as the season progresses. Roy is moving along noticeably with 12 points in 13 contests.
- Alexander Ovechkin has 23 goals in 28 games making you wonder how many more he would have were it not for an eight-game absence. Elsewhere, Mike Green and Semin have both been rather cold recently in their production.
Steve Montador registered two assists Monday which is fitting for a defenseman who works hard providing results in many specific assignments. He scored the first goal the last time these two clubs went toe-to-toe and it turned out to be the deciding tally.
- Top scorer Thomas Vanek will sit out his third game because of soreness in the abdomen region. Joining him are Patrick Kaleta, Chris Butler and Nathan Gerbe. Washington will be without Semyon Varlamov, Boyd Gordon and Brian Pothier.
- Buffalo is 4-3 through seven games with Southeast Division competition and Washington is 4-3-2 in its Northeast battles. Neither is exactly convincing but one will be two games above .500 once the day is through.
Separated by three points with the Sabres owning a game in hand, this match-up has its value for the playoff positions as both clubs tussle for an upper hand on one another. Points in December are just as crucial as the ones in April.