Washington Capitals @ Buffalo Sabres
Washington: 12-4-0, 24 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 9-14-23 in 16 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: C Boyd Gordon, G Semyon Varlamov
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (10-3-0, 2.50, .914), though I expect Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.69, .931) to get the start
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin
Buffalo: 5-9-3, 13 points
Leading scorer: Derek Roy, 8-10-18 in 17 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 49.4%
Notable injuries/illnesses: G Ryan Miller, F Nathan Gerbe, F Drew Stafford
Starting goalie: Ryan Miller (3-5-1, 2.71, .903),
but I expect Jhonas Enroth (2-1-1, 3.43, .876) (according to the NHL.com preview Miller is ready to go
Player to watch: The Sabres' starting goalie
The only way the Sabres win this one is with the Capitals throwing out a clunker or if Enroth or Miller steals the game. Miller certainly is capable, but he hasn't been playing well this season. Even if he does, the Sabres' special teams could sink them. And then there's those pesky Caps goalies who are, you know, kind of decently awesome.
1) Attack Tyler Myers. The reigning Calder Trophy winner is having trouble as teams watched the game tape and learned how to beat him. That can't be good for his confidence, and given enough pressure I wouldn't be surprised to see him commit some bad turnovers in his own zone. Sorry, kid.
2) Take away the point. Both Jordan Leopold and Myers have contributed pretty well from the blueline in terms of points. For a team like Buffalo that lacks any top-end scorers (well, Vanek is debatable), "offense from the defense" is how they get it done. The Caps wingers need to be more aggressive than normal against the point and take away that outlet. Implementing this strategy should also create many odd man rushes, which the Capitals feast on.
3) Penalties. Penalty trouble is one of the few ways in which the Caps can blow this game. Even though both of Buffalo's special teams units haven't been quite up to
bogey par this season, you never know when they'll suddenly break out (an 11.1% PP for the season is simply not realistic, methinks). Meanwhile, drawing penalties and maybe scoring a power play goal or two against a 77% unit will take the life out of the Sabres (if they had any). The Caps are +3 in shot differential per game, the Sabres +5--obviously some of that is score effects (for both teams, though especially the Sabres), but the Sabres are a decent ES team nonetheless.
4) Alex&Alex, a family company. Messrs. Ovechkin and Semin make my family very happy with highlight-reel goals and terrific production. They should be able to feast on the Sabres' D, including a familiar face in Shaone Morrisonn who, we're discovering, worked to Mike Green's detriment rather than complement. Semin's 4 career points against the Sabres (per the NHL.com preview) worry me, though.
5) Make Roy Green with envy. Bruce Boudreau hasn't shied away from using Mike Green to shut down top lines and Roy, the Sabres' offensive catalyst up front, is one guy that needs to be shut down. Rookie Tyler Ennis is another. If the two play together, perhaps the Caps should use a checking line against them and try to take advantage of their size; if not, Backstrom and Ovechkin should do. I hope Bruce Boudreau is consciously using them power versus power, because as soon as Ovechkin wakes up that top line will be deadly.
I have a bad feeling the Caps will come out flat. I also have a feeling Buffalo simply can't compete with Washington. Sorry, Buffalo. Capitals 5, Sabres 2.