If Alex Ovechkin is having an off night, the Washington Capitals
know Nicklas Backstrom often will help pick up the slack.
Washington looks to win back-to-back games for the first time in
2 1/2 weeks when it visits the league-worst Buffalo Sabres on
Ovechkin leads the NHL with 30 goals and had scored one in four
straight games – with Backstrom assisting on two – before going
scoreless in the last two contests.
Backstrom, among the league leaders in assists with 34, scored
in each of those games and added an assist on Eric Fehr’s
game-winning goal in the third period of Friday’s 3-2 victory over
the New York Rangers.
“He’s handling the puck with confidence, and he’s making great
plays,” Fehr said. “It’s what we expect of him, but it’s pretty
unbelievable to watch.”
Backstrom has four goals and 13 assists while recording at least
one point in seven of his last eight.
“He’s playing great, he’s obviously in a groove,” coach Adam
Oates said. “We count on him so much for so many touches in a
Fehr has two goals and three assists over his last six.
“Last year by far he was our most versatile player,” Oates said
of Fehr. “He is kind of an opportunist player.”
The Capitals (20-14-4), though, had lost three of their previous
four and haven’t won consecutive games since a three-game winning
streak Dec. 7-10.
Washington has won three straight meetings with the Sabres, with
Ovechkin recording a goal in each. Backstrom has a goal and eight
assists in his last seven against Buffalo, which had won three of
four before falling 4-3 in a shootout to Toronto on Friday.
The Sabres (10-24-4), who have the fewest wins and points in the
NHL, got a power-play goal from Steve Ott with 25 seconds left in
regulation but missed all three chances in the tiebreaker. They led
2-0 after one period but gave up three goals in the second.
“I thought we started off real well, but the second period shows
you how you can get yourself in trouble when you keep turning the
puck over,” interim coach Ted Nolan said. “If there’s any merit to
what we deserved, it’s what we got. It’s one of those things where
we played as bad as we could play and still get a point. We got
what we deserved.”
Matt Moulson and John Scott scored for the Sabres, who were
outshot 17-5 in the second.
“That was one of the worst periods we’ve played all year,” said
Moulson, who has three goals and three assists over his last six.
“Obviously, they took advantage of that.”
Ryan Miller made 39 saves, and he’s 4-1-1 with a 1.78
goals-against average over his last six. He could be in net again
for this contest, though he’s 2-5-0 with a 2.76 GAA in his last
seven against the Capitals.
Washington backup Philipp Grubauer made his second straight
start Friday as Braden Holtby is 1-2-1 with a 4.92 GAA over his
last five outings. It’s unclear if Grubauer, who is 5-1-1 with a
2.18 GAA, will get the nod against Buffalo.
“Goalies – like everybody – have their waves,” Oates said.
“Right now, it looks like he’s playing with confidence, and he’s
giving the players confidence.”
Buffalo has won three straight at home, while Washington is
4-1-2 over its last seven on the road.