The first-place Washington Capitals will try to create some breathing room atop the Metropolitan Division when they visit the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.
The Capitals are hanging onto their top position by a tiebreaker, as Washington (41-20-7, 89 points) is even with the Philadelphia Flyers on points. While Washington has a solid 4-2-1 record over its last seven games, they have lost ground to the red-hot Flyers, winners of nine straight games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are also lurking five points behind the Capitals and Flyers, though Washington delivered a setback to Sidney Crosby and company with a 5-2 road victory in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon.
“This was a good game for us to kind of feel how it usually feels in this room with everyone working for each other, everyone working hard and playing hard. … So this is something we can build on,” said Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, who recorded a goal and an assist against the Penguins.
“We can use a lot of clips from today as positive reinforcement of what we have to do moving forward and how we have to play, and how many people we need involved on a shift-to-shift basis.”
Buffalo (29-31-8, 66 points) couldn’t provide the Capitals with any favors on Saturday as the Sabres dropped a 3-1 result to the Flyers. The Sabres outshot Philadelphia by a 39-24 margin but allowed two unanswered goals in the last 11 minutes.
The Sabres are 0-6-0 over their last six games, their longest streak of regulation losses since they dropped six in a row from Dec. 28, 2015, to Jan. 8, 2016.
The reason behind the winless streak is simple: lack of offense. Buffalo hasn’t scored more than two goals in any of the six losses, and the team is 0-for-17 on the power play over its last seven games.
“Any time it’s going like that, it’s not fun. You want to win games,” forward Jeff Skinner said. “We’re getting opportunities, we’re just not finding ways to bury them, and then the other team is. That’s been the difference in most of the games lately.”
The Sabres’ 39 shots against Philadelphia represents Buffalo’s largest shot total of the six-game drought. Fifteen of those shots came from Skinner, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, who played together on the same line for the first time this season.
After missing 17 games with a lower-body injury, Linus Ullmark was available as Carter Hutton’s backup on Saturday. If healthy, Ullmark could hit the ice for the first time since Jan. 28.
That said, the Sabres may opt to start Hutton based on Ullmark’s last outing against Washington. The goalie allowed six goals on 34 shots in a 6-1 Capitals rout over the Sabres on Nov. 1.
Dating back to the 2014-15 season, the Capitals are 12-3-0 in their last 15 games against Buffalo.
Braden Holtby is Washington’s probable starter in net on Monday. Holtby is 4-1-0 in his last five starts, including a 26-save performance against the Penguins.
The Capitals are 14-2-1 against Atlantic Division teams this season.
Washington forward Richard Panik has six points (two goals, four assists) over a four-game point streak.
–Field Level Media