[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
The last time the Caps travelled to Buffalo to face the Sabres, they were 3-1-0 (and about to get waxed). Nearly five months later, the Caps head north again with a record just above the Bettman .500 mark (the Caps may have racked up more than half of the standing points available to them, but they do not have a winning percentage above .500 - they've won 31 of 67 games. But that's a topic for another day.) and a much greater sense of urgency.
The big question for the Caps is whether or not Cristobal Huet (back spasms) will be able to go. If I had to bet, my money would be on "nuh uh," which would be unfortunate, as Huet is 2-2-0 with a 2.01 GAA and .932 SV% against the Sabres this year. Olie Kolzig? 0-2-0/3.56/.877. Brent Johnson? 0-1-0/7.00/.867. Yikes.
At the other end of the ice, even though he played last night in Philly, expect to see Ryan Miller in net (Jocelyn Thibault has become more or less unstartable - he hasn't started since January 21 and has only made four appearances all year in which his GAA was under 4.14).
You know what the Sabres bring to the table - depth and speed (and tonight, some desperation to boot). The Caps, when they're on their game, can skate with (or right past) anyone. When they're off, however, this Buffalo squad is exactly the kind of team that can blow the Caps out of a building. Which Caps team shows up will determine the outcome of tonight's game - we have a pretty good idea which Sabres team will be there.
Oh, and Sabre fans - please boo Alex Ovechkin. He really hates it. It gets him way off his game.
Finally, on a personal note, a very good buddy of mine is from Buffalo (Lewiston, actually) and is a huge Sabres fan. Yesterday, we received a gift from he and his wife for our newborn. Included in the box was a Sabres outfit for the baby. I told him we're not really using cloth diapers, but I'd be happy to make an exception in this case.
Why The Sabres Will Win:
"Because of the history so far this season.The Sabres have outscored the Caps, 15-7, winning all three games. In those three games, Ovechkin has three goals, but is carrying a plus/minus of -3. Of course, he'll also get booed for the Danny Briere incident." - Dispatches From The Aud
"They have to. Simple as that. If they want to stay in the playoff picture, they have to beat the Caps." - Top Shelf
"Two reasons. One, who was the second-leading goal scorer behind Alexander Ovechkin last month? Thomas-$52 million dollar baby-Vanek. And defenseman Henrik Tallinder's injury means that Andrej Sekera (Brian Campbell who?) will be logging almost thirty minutes. Chock up another win for the blue and gold." - In the Crease
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
It may be a four-way Calder race, but there can be only three finalists. Who goes? I say Jonathan Toews (though some may disagree - h/t to EMac on the video link).... Speaking of Toews, it's good to see Matt Pettinger's making friends out West.... A Joe Finley profile in a local paper? Are we dreaming?... Here's today's Hockey Name du Jour.... Finally, one year ago today we discussed some stomach-churning gossip, saw a Caps prospect get some props, and were lied to by statistics.
Hart: Craig Anderson (40-save shutout win)
Ross: Martin Erat, Maxim Afinogenov (3 points each)
Norris: Ville Koistinen (G, A, +4, 2 BkS)
Vezina: Craig Anderson (40-save shutout win)
Richard: Martin Erat (3G)
- Calder: Ville Koistinen (G, A, +4, 2 BkS)
- Aiken: Martin Biron (L, 5 goals allowed on 13 shots against in 45:57 of work)