Pregame #79: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres

Washington Capitals (45-22-11) vs. Buffalo Sabres (39-29-9)
Location: Verizon Center
7:00 PM
TV:  Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), NHL Network
Radio:  1500AM, 820 AM, and XM
Team Promotion:  Fan Appreciation DayNicklas Backstrom Bobblehead Giveaway presented by Verizon
Previous Games:
Nov 13, 2010 WSH@BUF 2-3 L (OT)
Nov 17, 2010 BUF@WSH 4-3 W
Feb 20, 2011 WSH@BUF, 2-1 W
Games Remaining: None
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  Shaone Morrisonn (2004-2010), Mike Grier (2002-2004)
The Enemy:  Our Bloguin Partner Top Shelf, Die By The Blade

The injury-depleted Washington Capitals face a potential first-round playoff opponent as they take on the 7th-place Buffalo Sabres.  The Capitals finished the month of March 12-2-1, easily their best month of the season and their first double-digit win month since October.  They hope to continue their roll against the Miller-less Sabres, who are starting to lose other players to injury. 

The Sabres had a 10-win March themselves as part of a longer run of 12-4-3 since Terry Pegula bought the team in late February.  The Sabres success can be attributed to a new positive outlook, new personnel, or just plain desperation.  Coach Lindy Ruff has been behind the bench for well over a decade now and has his team going the right direction in spring once again as they look to climb up the standings.  Expect the Sabres to treat this game like a playoff game, meaning the Capitals will likely have to weather an early storm of intensity before they can lock down and put the Sabres away.  If the Sabres get an early lead, it will be much more difficult for the Capitals to ratchet their game back up to recover. 

*Note:  This will be referee Bill McCreary‘s final NHL game. 

Injury Report:  Capitals’ D Dennis Wideman (hematoma) is listed as week-to-week.  Defensemen Mike Green (head) and Tom Poti (groin) are on long-term injured reserve.  D John Erskine (undisclosed) left Thursday night’s game early, but is not expected to miss significant time. 
-The Sabres are not expecting to have All-Star G Ryan Miller (upper body), whose absence is compounded by G Patrick Lalime‘s knee injury.  C Derek Roy (leg), D Jordan Leopold (hand), and RW Patrick Kaleta (knee) all have long term injuries.  LW Jochen Hecht (upper body) and RW Mike Grier (knee) are both questionable for the game. 

See Why The Sabres Will Sink!

Three Things To Watch For:

Boyes Is Back In Town:  The Buffalo Sabres picked up C Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline, and boy has it paid off.  Boyes had two huge seasons in St. Louis after the Boston Bruins traded him away for Dennis Wideman, but his last two seasons have been uninspiring.  The change of scenery has done him good, as he has 10 points in 16 games in his new threads, including a game-winning goal in a huge win over the Bruins to keep the Sabres in the playoff hunt.  While Boyes likely won’t hit 40 goals in Ruff’s defensive scheme, he has stabilized the forward corps and has made the Sabres dangerous again.

The Book on Jhonas:  With Miller and Lalime out, the Caps will almost certainly face rookie Swedish netminder Jhonas Enroth.  Enroth’s NHL career consists of 10 NHL games, but his last 4 games have all been wins, including a shutout on Wednesday.  Enroth, who was the next goalie taken after Michal Neuvirth in the 2006 draft, doesn’t take up a lot of space in the cage with his 5’10, 166-lb frame, but he is quick in his lateral movements.   The Caps will still have to get a lot of traffic in front of him to be successful. 

Carlson Carries the Load:   Caps rookie D John Carlson is taking on more responsibility in the absence of veteran defenders Green, Wideman, and Poti, and he is thriving.  In his last game against the Blue Jackets, he scored the first goal of the game and set up the overtime game-winner, which gives him 7 points and a +6 rating in his last 8 games.  Carlson hasn’t taken a penalty since March 7 (11 games) and hasn’t played fewer than 20 minutes since January 22 (29 games).  In fact, he has averaged 27 minutes on ice over his last 2 games and has 3 points to show for it.  Hopefully Carlson can kick-start the moribund powerplay unit, too.