Pre-Game Skate: Washington Capitals

Photo: Melissa Kania

At any point in the season, you can say “Oh, this is a big game tonight.” Tonight’s game against the Washington Capitals really fits the bill, as the two teams are tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 84 points – it could still go either way.

The disadvantage entering tonight’s game regards the ‘ROW’ category. The Sabres have 30 regulation and overtime wins, while the Capitals have 36 – putting Buffalo in a tough spot. However, it’s important to note that Buffalo controls their own destiny – and that starts with a win on Tuesday.

As Buffalo comes off the 4-1 win over the Rangers on Friday and the following 3-1 loss to the Wild Saturday, the focus has to be on tonight. Not only is a playoff spot at stake, the team could also potentially catch Ottawa for seventh place or even Boston for the division title. Aim high, work hard, and win.

Washington is coming off a Sunday win over the Wild. Alexander Ovechkin leads the team with 36 goals, 25 assists and 61 points, so he’ll be a key factor to curb during the game at the Verizon Center on Tuesday. Sniper Nicklas Backstrom has returned to practice with the team from injury, but is still not at 100% and won’t suit up, so that may aid the Buffalo team. Alexander Semin, in the meantime, is six goals from 200 in his career.

There’s almost no question that Ryan Miller, who was named second star of the week by the league, will be in net for the Sabres tonight. The goaltender for the Capitals hasn’t been announced yet.

One roster move for fans to note: rookie forward Travis Turnbull has been returned to the Rochester Americans, because both Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta are healthy and could play tonight. Since Turnbull was an emergency recall, he had to be sent back down. Corey Tropp and Marcus Foligno are still with the Buffalo squad and may not be returned to Rochester at all this season; Foligno has 10 point and a plus-8 rating in eight games this season with the Sabres.

For the past two games, defenseman Mike Weber has been scratched in favor of Alexander Sulzer. It’s unknown if that will continue into tonight’s game or further into the season, although coach Lindy Ruff did previously refer to a defenseman rotation to keep the players fresh.

The Sabres have just six games remaining on the season, and all six games are against conference opponents – so every point really does count. Buffalo hasn’t won in Washington since April 3, 2009, so tonight’s game could be a big win.

Buffalo has gone 13-2-4 since February 17th, when they were in 14th place in the Eastern Conference. Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have a better record during that stretch.

The four-game winning streak, a playoff spot, the Northeast Division: so much at stake. Tonight’s game is at 7 p.m., so get ready for an intense one.

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