Capitals-Sabres Preview

Both the Washington Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres spent
Christmas feeling dissatisfied about their seasons so far. Each
team will have plenty to say about whether the other can begin to
turn things around before the end of 2011.

The frustrated clubs square off Monday night at Buffalo in the
first of two meetings in a five-day span.

The Sabres (16-15-3) haven’t exactly played well at the First
Niagara Center, going 7-9-3 there, but they must be happy to be
back in western New York after getting outscored 15-6 on an 0-3-0
trip before the holiday break.

They had 42 shots Thursday at Toronto and killed all six of the
Maple Leafs’ power-play opportunities, but that somehow still added
up to a 3-2 loss – their eighth defeat in 11 games overall.

“Obviously the couple days rest here is going to be nice to
spend time with our families and maybe not think about hockey –
think about other things,” leading scorer Jason Pominville said.
“But we wanted to end this on a pretty good note. The effort was
there, the results weren’t and if we keep putting efforts on like
this and limit those little brain farts a little bit, we’re going
to get on a roll here.”

Much like Buffalo, the Capitals (17-14-2) expect to return to
the postseason but find themselves outside of playoff position.

They can at least find reason for optimism after coming back
from a 3-0 deficit in the third period Friday at New Jersey,
earning a point in a 4-3 shootout loss.

“They never gave up. And we’ve been doing it lots of times,”
coach Dale Hunter said. “We came up short, but they never gave up,
so that’s a good sign for our team.”

The Capitals have been outscored in the first and second periods
this season, but they have a 39-32 edge in the final 20 minutes of
regulation. They haven’t been outscored in the final period in nine
consecutive games.

“We’re really comfortable in the third,” center Brooks Laich
said. “Teams spend a lot of energy in the first two periods against
us and we’re able to push in the third, but we have to have that
push earlier in the game, too.”

Jason Chimera scored twice in the third against the Devils,
taking over the team lead with 13 goals – ahead of more likely
candidates such as Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

Ovechkin, who hasn’t had a multipoint game in his last 22
contests, was a minus-4 in a 5-1 loss at Buffalo on Nov. 26. That
was one of the roughest games of the season for goalie Tomas
Vokoun, and Michal Neuvirth has started the Capitals’ last four
games after replacing him during a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia earlier
this month.

Whichever goalie is in net may not have to face Sabres sniper
Thomas Vanek, who couldn’t finish his team’s most recent game due
to an upper-body injury. He’s part of a lengthy Buffalo injured
list, which includes standout defenseman Tyler Myers, former
40-goal scorer Brad Boyes and newcomer Ville Leino.

Ryan Miller has struggled to carry the load. The former Vezina
Trophy winner has a 3.44 goals-against average in eight starts
since returning from a concussion, and a 4.45 mark on the Sabres’
recent trip.

He’s lost four of his last five starts against Washington, which
hosts the Sabres on Friday.