Pregame #63: Capitals at Sabres

Washington Capitals (41-13-8) at Buffalo Sabres (33-18-9)
HSBC Arena, 7:00 PM
Television: VERSUS (HD), CSN-DC
Radio: 1500 AM, XM
Previous Games: Nov 25: v BUF 2-0 W,  Dec 9: @ BUF 0-3 L, Dec 23: v BUF 5-2 W
Remaining Games: (none)

On the day of the NHL’s trade deadline,  The Washington Capitals head to Buffalo, New York to face the Sabres for the final time of the 2009-10 season. The Caps currently are ahead in the season series, leading 2-1-0, behind the strength of a Semyon Varlamov shutout on November 25th and a two-goal performance from Nicklas Backstrom on December 23rd. While the Sabres are in action tonight in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, this will be DC’s first game on the far side of the Olympic Break – the first of 20 crammed into 6 weeks. The Caps will look to reverse their recent fortune on the road after going 0-1-2 away from the Verizon Center heading into the break, and try to regain some of the swagger they had during their franchise best 14-game win streak.

What to watch for after the jump!

What to watch for:

– Warm the Fire: While the Sabres will get the chance to shake the dust off their equipment against the Pens, tomorrow night’s matchup will be the Capitals first since February 13th. Some may say that extra rest would benefit DC, but I would argue that making the jump from practice to game-speed as soon as possible would benefit teams through the short stretch into April. From seeing the game at a quicker pace, to working along side your linemates outside of practice – real, meaningful, games can only help prepare a team for the long run.

– Olympic Hangover: While the Sabres are in action tonight against the Penguins, Ryan Miller is not. We can only assume that he will start against the Capitals, and face other Olympians bittered by their performance in Thomas Fleishmann, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Backstrom. Sure- several of the athletes competing tomorrow were discouraged with their performance at the Olympics, as we just discussed, but all performed at a caliber that was unrivaled headed into the break.  Ovechkin still leads the league in points (89) and +/- (+43), and is tied for the lead in goals (42). Mike Green, who was faced with an Olympic roster snub, is leading all league defencemen in goals (14), assists (46), and points (60). Goaltender extraordinaire Miller is in the top 7 of every stat that matters, and has already notched a shutout on the Capitals this season.  Will the wear and tear from an emotional two weeks be the deciding factor for these athletes? How will the Russians react to a shocking, and disappointing, early exit? Will Miller second-guess every move he makes after allowing the game winner pass him in overtime of the Gold Medal game? From over-reacting to settling into a mental funk, only time will tell.

– Race for the Chase: Currently the Sabres are one point behind the Northeast Division leading Senators, and are 5th in the Eastern Conference by the same measure. The Capitals have demolished the Southeast Division, and are blowing the rest of the Eastern Conference out of the water. It might seem that Buffalo has more at stake, as the Capitals have already secured their playoff berth, but look for the Caps to play desperate hockey to add to their 1 point lead over the Sharks to win their first ever Presidents’ Trophy. The Caps will also look to remove the stench of a 0-2-1 current losing streak, while the Sabres are fighting to avoid another one, as they ended their season-worst, six-game winless streak (0-4-2) the day before the Olympic break.

Player(s) To Watch: Derek Roy, C #9 / Tim Connolly, C #19

Roy put together a nice scoring streak entering the break, lighting the lamp 3 times in his last 3 games. He has been the go-to man against the Capitals this season, notching 3 assists in the three meetings. Tim Connolly, who centers the first line, also has a nice streak going – with three assists in his past three games. In his last 25 games, Connolly has points in 22, recording eight goals and 24 assists. He has 1 goal against the Capitals this season.