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Sabres face Caps seeking to keep pace in the east

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Winners of 11 out of the last 13, Washington is another difficult test in Buffalo’s Cinderella season

Arizona Coyotes v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Game 33

Buffalo Sabres (19-9-4) vs Washington Capitals (19-9-3)

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM | Capital One Arena | Washington,DC

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Capitals blog: Japer’s Rink

Know Your Opponent

Washington Capitals

Record: (19-9-3) | 41 PTS

Last 10: 8-2-0

Division Ranking: 1st in the Metropolitan Division

Conference Ranking: 4th in the Eastern Conference

PP: 4th (26.9%)

PK: 22nd (77.8%)

What to watch for

1. Winning Ways

It’s going to be tough to take a win against the Stanley Cup champions. The team heads onto the game on the upswing, winning a pair at home against western opponents after a five-game losing streak.

The wins have been important for the young club, who stood steadfast through the brief adversity. The correction back to winning demonstrated a heartiness the club lacked just one season ago. They’ve come against lesser opponents, though. Pumping the streak up to three against a conference contender would be huge for the Sabres.

2. Take advantage of the advantage

Despite a solid record, the Capitals are horrible on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, Buffalo is equally woeful on the power play.

The Capitals trying to defend the Buffalo advantage strings a web of inept that spreads wide and across the NHL-sized ice. Hopefully, the special teams play doesn’t look like a knife fight with a handful of hot dogs.

The Sabres have scored two power play goals this week, and given the plus-3 goal differential between the two games, it has definitely been a key factor in the tenable winning streak. If the team intends to continue the success, the Sabres will have to beat the very, very bad Capitals PK unit.

3. DIYD

Remember that 10-game winning streak from, like...a week ago? The Caps have a string of their own going. Sure, they’ve lost two in December, but prior to that, Washington’s last loss was November 14.

The Capitals have battled hard to get back into the mix and stay atop the Metropolitan Division. It’s also true that last night, the the Carolina Hurricanes took the Capitals to the shootout, hanging five on Braden Holtby. In a back to back, a team would generally start the backup, but given the fact that Phoenix Copley is Holtby’s partner, the Caps might go with the starter in a game that could have wild card implications later in the season.

Clearly, Holtby is beatable, and a lot of the league’s top teams have learned what Buffalo can do against a backup. It seems like a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation for Washington as they seek to continue their upward swing. One point of interest as head coach Todd Reirden makes his decision: the team allows fewer shots per game when Copley is in net. Will they roll the dice against a confident Buffalo squad?

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Conor Sheary - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo

Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Evan Rodrigues

Tage Thompson - Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Pominville

Defense

Rasmus Dahlin - Zach Bogosian

Lawrence Pilut - Rasmus Ristolainen

Nathan Beaulieu - Marco Scandella (unconfirmed)

Starting Goaltender: Carter Hutton (unconfirmed)

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alexander Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - TJ Oshie

Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kusnetsov - Tom Wilson

Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitrij Jaskin - Nic Dowd - Travis Boyd

Defense

Michal Kempny - John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen

Jonas Siegenthaler - Madison Bowey

Starting Goaltender: Pheonix Copley (unconfirmed)