Game Preview: Washington Capitals @ Buffalo Sabres

There's good and bad news for this Wednesday clash. The good is that Buffalo has twice bounced back from shutout defeats and are surely upset about this previous predicament coming on home ice. Lindy Ruff referred to it as an embarassment. The bad news is they're taking on the Washington Capitals, one of the teams that have blanked the Sabres, boosted by the return of Alexander Ovechkin but that's not the lone concern.

Forget about Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green for a minute because their abilities are well noted. Washington's offense is on the verge of prominence leading the league in goals (111) and in the standings with a 19-5-6 record. While much of that is purely because of two Russians, a Swede and a Canadian, there are others adding their names into the conversation.

Brooks Laich hacks and whacks at rebounds unconcerned with the abuse he's going to take. After a difficult season split between Anaheim and Dallas, Brenden Morrison found a solution by joining the Capitals. Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr are both on track for career years. Despite Mike Knuble's injury, that's eight individuals the Sabres will have to shadow which is a lot to demand.

Without the services of Paul Gaustad and possibly Mike Grier, those assignments will be tremendously difficult to handle.

Five things to consider about both Washington and Buffalo:

  • Washington has lit the lamp 38 more times than Buffalo but the Sabres have allowed 20 goals fewer. It will be a matter of finding out which style stands out stronger: the desperate defense or the potent offense. The Capitals have picked up the slack on the back-end though conceding just six goals in the past four games. I get the feeling Ryan Miller's going to have to be exquisite again.
  • Derek Roy and Tim Connolly are averaging 0.77 points per game. Six Washington skaters have a better ratio so let's count them off: Backstrom (1.1), Ovechkin (1.45), Green (1.03), Semin (1.19), Laich (0.83) and Fleischmann (0.89). Morrison (0.76) and Fehr (0.75) aren't trailing far behind themselves. Knuble was at 0.78 before being sidelined. May the panicking ensue.
  • Back-to-back regulation losses aren't ordinary with Ryan Miller but Buffalo has one goal in two games. If that wasn't too negative, they didn't out-shoot New Jersey which is a positive we have taken from losses. No, they were out-hustled, out-gunned and out-worked by the Devils' 37-22 shot advantage. On a separate note: congratulations goes to Martin Brodeur for tying Terry Sawchuk's shutout record of 103. 
  • Want more proof that Fleischmann and Fehr aren't in over their heads with these performances? The Czech native returned from a frightening blood clot which was in his leg to go on a nine-game point streak and now has five points in three games. Meanwhile, Fehr is on a seven-game run courtesy of five goals and five assists. Seems like the potential of these two early draft choices is being fulfilled.
  • Buffalo's richest salary owner, Thomas Vanek, has a goal in seven games or two in ten matches or three goals in the last 11 games. Half of his scoring came during the opening five contests in October. Any way you look at it, stability is unaccounted for in the Austrian. The 25-year-old had 20 goals at this checkpoint last season. Eight won't cut it whatsoever.
  • Ovechkin enjoys the city of Buffalo whether it be because of his constant success against them or executing cheap-shots into the boards. And Washington went on to win both instances after he was thrown out of the game. So much for taking hits for the team working out. Am I right Patrick Kaleta? What do you say Daniel Briere?
  • A sinking ship, the Sabres' powerplay has plummeted to 21st in the league. Penalty killing is excellent and it'll need to continue that way to protect Miller from the No.1 powerplay unit. The options they have are incredible and this is a moment where 60 minutes of non-stop work will be the only way out with two points. 
  • Travis Zajac beat Miller with a shot that went through the netminder Monday night. There's a phrase we haven't been able to mention weekly monthly. As far as the pre-game rituals go, Miller is extremely focused and ready for showtime. With some of the game's finest stars coming his way, he'll have his hands full; not that it bothers him.
  • Indecisive recently, Buffalo's defense can't second-guess themselves because a glimmer of hesitation is the bread and butter of Washington's forwards. Turn-overs and odd-man rushes result in goals to this Capitals bunch unless Miller dives in. Tampa Bay played the puck, not the body on Monday and fell 3-0 to their Division rivals. Buffalo mustn't do the same.
  • Expected to start in goal for Washington is Jose Theodore but nothing has been confirmed.The former Canadien has stopped 72 of 76 shots in winning his last two. If Semyon Varlamov goes, he'll bring his 12-1-2 record and set his sights on shutting out Buffalo for the second time in two weeks. Note: Varlamov's first career NHL defeat came at the hands of the Sabres last April in a 5-4 overtime decision.

Buffalo must find their positional sense to fend off the Southeast giants. The saying goes "A-B-C, it's easy as 1-2-3." For the Buffalo Sabres, it's easy as stopping one (Ovechkin), two (Semin), three (Backstrom), four (Green), five (Laich), six (Fleischmann), seven (Fehr), eight (Morrison) and nine (Theodore/Varlamov). No room for blunders in this, a tall order.

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