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Preview: Sabres seek redemption in Washington

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After dropping two close contests with the Capitals to start the year, Buffalo will seek payback against their COVID-struck rivals

Washington Capitals v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Game 4

Buffalo Sabres (1-3-0) vs. Washington Capitals (2-0-2)

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.

TV: MSG

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Capitals Blog: Jasper’s Rink

Know Your Opponent

Washington Capitals

Record: (2-0-2) | 6 PTS

Division Ranking: 3rd in East Division

PP: T-9th (25.0%)

PK: 15th (81.3%)

1. Chance to Even Things Up

From a standings perspective, the Sabres are off to a rough start. Fortunately, they could just as easily be 3-1-0, had a few minor things gone their way. In their first two games of the year, Buffalo fell short in two closely-contested matchups with the Capitals.

Despite carrying an expected-goal advantage of nearly 59-percent through that two-game tilt, the Sabres collected zero points. They also took a very conservative, low-event approach the first time around. Ralph Krueger’s tactical approach he took during the Washington series took a 180-degree turn against the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this week.

If Buffalo can keep up the aggressive forechecking strategy we saw in Philadelphia, they should make easy work of the COVID-struck Capitals. Speaking of which....

2. Washington is Shorthanded

Yesterday, news broke that four Capitals players had been added to the COVID-19 protocol list after exposure to netminder Ilya Samsonov, who later tested positive.

Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Samsonov himself are all major losses for Washington. Without one-third of their offensive top-six, half of their top defensive tandem, and their starting netminder, there is no excuse for the Sabres not to prevail in both contests this weekend.

3. Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending

As was the case last week, both sides will need strong play between the pipes in order to emerge victorious. Depending on whether or not Linus Ullmark will play following the loss of his father this week, we could see Jonas Johansson or Dustin Tokarski get some action. The Sabres’ usual backup, Carter Hutton’s status is also up in the air after taking a hit to the head that caused him to lose his helmet against the Flyers earlier this week.

Washington will also rely on their reserve netminder, Vitek Vanecek. In the second part of the Sabres’ back-to-back with the Capitals to start the year, the rookie netminder was sensational, stopping 30 of the 31 shots he faced. Buffalo will need to find a way to solve the 25-year-old this time around.

Projected Lineups

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Taylor Hall - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Victor Olofsson - Eric Staal - Tage Thompson

Jeff Skinner - Curtis Lazar - Riley Sheahan

Tobias Rieder - Cody Eakin - Dylan Cozens

Defense

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Dahlin - Brandon Montour

Colin Miller - Henri Jokiharju

Starter: Linus Ullmark

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson

Richard Panik - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie

Carl Hagelin - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Daniel Sprong - Brian Pinho - Conor Sheary

Defense

Brenden Dillon - John Carlson

Jonas Siegenthaler - Justin Schultz

Zdeno Chara - Nick Jensen

Starter: Vitek Vanecek