Goaltender Braden Holtby might downplay what he and his Washington Capitals have been up to lately, but there is no stepping around the history books.
The Capitals can extend their best start in franchise history Monday night and Holtby can add to his league-high win total when they visit the Buffalo Sabres for the first game of a home-and-home set.
Washington leads the Eastern Conference with a 26-6-2 record thanks to a dominating stretch in the last month-plus.
Holtby made 29 saves in Saturday's 3-1 win over Montreal for his 10th consecutive win at the Verizon Center – matching the longest home streak by a Capitals goaltender since 1989-90. It improved the Caps' record to 14-1-1 since Nov. 21 and gave them their seventh straight regulation win.
“I don't think any of us really even know we're winning seven in a row,” Holtby said. “We expect a win every night, and we try and prepare in a way that gives us the best chance to do that.”
The Capitals play six of their next seven on the road, but things don't drop off much away from the nation's capital. Washington not only holds the best home record in the NHL but the best road mark in the East. Holtby has a 1.65 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in his last nine road games.
Holtby ranks toward the top of the NHL in GAA (1.92) and save percentage (.932). What helps is a team that has supplied him early leads. The Capitals are 19-1 when scoring first and 12-0 when leading after the first period.
Even without points from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals jumped ahead of the Canadiens with an Evgeny Kuznetsov first-period tally and cruised in their first game back from the NHL's Christmas break.
The only negatives were a few bumps and bruises. Ovechkin was examined for a shot he took to his left arm and top defenseman John Carlson needed a maintenance day at Sunday's practice, which Holtby left early due to dehydration and cramps. All three are expected to play on Monday.
Buffalo (15-16-4) continued its mini roll of late with Saturday's 6-3 win at Boston. The Sabres improved to 4-1-1 in their last six games thanks to a monster five-goal third period. The five goals in the final 20 minutes were the most for Buffalo in a third period since it posted six in a 7-4 win over Tampa Bay on March 19, 2008.
Rookie Jack Eichel logged two goals and an assist in the final period to cap his first four-point game. The 19-year-old has been inconsistent since the Sabres made him the No. 2 pick in the June draft, but he has tallied points in three straight games.
''I think he's gone through some ups and downs,'' coach Dan Bylsma said. ''We've seen him play some great games and we've seen some tough stretches of playing a lot of hockey. We've had this break – the six-day break – and seen him come back energized with a little more jump in his step.''
Buffalo's season-high six goals were one more than the Sabres scored in their previous three games.
Evander Kane has two in his past three, and he'll play Monday night despite being the subject of a sex offense investigation. A report Sunday suggested Buffalo Police are in the preliminary stages of investigating a sexual offense claim made against Kane, who said after Monday's morning skate that he's innocent and is looking forward to clearing his name.