Buffalo Sabres (33-28-5) vs. Washington Capitals (32-29-7)
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
Radio: WGR 550
SB Nation Capitals Blog: Japers’ Rink
Know Your Opponent
Last Game: 5-3 loss @ Rangers
Division Ranking: 6th in Metropolitan Division
PP: 20.1% (20th)
PK: 82.5% (7th)
What to Watch
1. Down, but Not Out
After dropping four straight, and six of the last seven, the Sabres had a quality response game Monday night against Toronto, completing a 4-3 comeback. While the playoff chances took a hit, as Buffalo now sits five points behind the Islanders with three games in hand, they can still make up ground with a win in Washington tonight.
Tuesday night in the NHL was extremely kind to the Sabres, as the Capitals, Penguins, Red Wings, Senators, and Islanders all lost in regulation. With the Caps being one of the teams in the race, and currently tied with Buffalo in points, getting them on the second night of a back-to-back is something a motivated and seemingly rejuvenated squad should take advantage of. Not only that, but Washington may be without their top scorer Alex Ovechkin (lower body injury) and Sonny Milano (illness), who has scored a goal in each of the two games against the Sabres this season. Both will be game time decisions, and given the fact that they were held out last night, it’s tough to predict what the Capitals will do with two of their most important offensive players.
2. Tuch Yeah
During the two-week stretch that Alex Tuch was out due to injury, at the most critical time of the season, the Sabres went 2-5-1, while their offense looked lost and out of sync in many of those games. Returning to play against Toronto on Monday night, Tuch scored two crucial third period goals, bringing Buffalo back from the depths of defeat, beating their Northern rivals for the first time this season.
It’s safe to say we missed him.
The role that Tuch plays on this Sabres offense is near unreplaceable, as he plays with speed and decisiveness that only make his linemates that much better. His return also allows Greenway to shift down to his more suitable role on the third line, while also forcing Donny to sit Olofsson (what a shame). While the individual lines may not be 100% set the rest of the year, these are the 12 players that SHOULD be playing most nights, with Hinostroza a solid option to fill in on quick notice.
Although Tuch missed Buffalo’s last matchup against the Capitals, he did play in their first matchup, a 5-4 OT win where he notched a goal and two assists. Given his performance two nights ago and the Sabres needing everyone at their best with huge points on the line, I would expect big things out of 89 in DC tonight.
3. By the Numbers
From a goaltending perspective in the first two matchups, both Luukkonen and Kuemper were in the crease for each team. Wednesday night however, while UPL will get another start against the Capitals, it will most likely be Charlie Lindgren in net for Washington, given that Kuemper started the previous night against the Rangers and should get a night off. This may not be a bad thing for Kuemper, as he was pulled in the second period against the Sabres last time they faced, after surrendering five goals on just 19 shots. As for UPL, he has bested the Caps both times this season, but will look to improve on the four goals he gave up in each game.
Two players on Buffalo’s radar tonight (especially if Ovechkin and Milano are out) will be Dylan Strome and recently acquired defenseman Rasmus Sandin. Strome is third on the Capitals with 48 points (16 Gs, 32 As), and has points in five straight games (3 Gs, 5 As). Sandin, who was added to the roster from Toronto around the trade deadline, has wasted no time acclimating himself to his new team and has already posted nine points in just five games with Washington.
As for the Sabres, Tage Thompson’s push for 50 goals and 100 points is very much possible during the final stretch, as he currently sits at 87 points and just eight goals shy of the mark. While he’s been an assist machine the past few games and has had multiple opportunities to score, it’s been a five-game goalless drought for TNT, tied for his longest of the season. Look for that to change tonight.
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Alex Tuch
JJ Peterka - Dylan Cozens - Jack Quinn
Jordan Greenway - Tyson Jost - Casey Mittelstadt
Zemgus Girgensons - Peyton Krebs - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Jacob Bryson
Owen Power - Henri Jokiharju
Riley Stillman - Ilya Lyubushkin
Goaltenders: Ukko Pekka Luukkonen (projected starter), Craig Anderson
Scratches: Vinnie Hinostroza, Victor Olofsson, Kale Clague
Injuries: Mattias Samuelsson, Eric Comrie
Conor Sheary - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Anthony Mantha - Nicklas Backstrom - Craig Smith
Joe Snively - Dylan Strome - TJ Oshie
Aliaksei Protas - Nic Dowd - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Rasmus Sandin - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Martin Fehervary - Nick Jensen
Matt Irwin - Alexander Alexeyev
Goaltenders: Charlie Lindgren (projected starter), Darcy Kuemper
Scratches: Gabriel Carlsson
Injuries: Alex Ovechkin, Sonny Milano, John Carlson, Connor Brown