Capitals open with two straight at Buffalo

NHL Hockey

While the Washington Capitals open another season with the Stanley Cup as their usual goal, the Buffalo Sabres are again determined to simply reach the postseason for the first time in a decade.

These clubs begin another unique season with the first of back-to-back contests in Buffalo on Thursday night.

With new coach Peter Laviolette in tow, Washington appears poised to compete for the newly created East Division title amid this 56-game schedule. There might be even more eagerness after the Capitals, who won the Metropolitan Division last season, but were bounced in their first playoff series by the New York Islanders.

“I guess we’re prepared for anything,” Laviolette told The Washington Post. “Anything could happen.”

He added to the club’s official website: “It’s exciting more than it is anxious.”

The Capitals can take comfort in knowing Alex Ovechkin is again leading the club for a 16th season. Sitting on 706 career goals, the future Hall of Famer is in the last season of his 13-year, $124 million contract. He tied for the NHL lead with 48 goals during the coronavirus-interrupted 2019-20 campaign.

Ovechkin has recorded 33 goals and 18 assists in 50 career games versus Buffalo. Seven of those goals came in his last eight against the Sabres.

Meanwhile, John Carlson, who recorded a career-high 75 points last season, anchors a blue line that now features longtime Boston Bruins star Zdeno Chara.

In addition to Chara, Washington made news by signing former New York Rangers star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. However, Lundqvist stepped away from the game after announcing he’s dealing with a heart condition and recently had surgery.

As the team moves on from veteran Brandon Holtby, that leaves the Capitals’ net to Ilya Samsonov. In his first NHL season, Samsonov went 16-6-2 with a 2.55 goals-against-average over 26 games in 2019-20. Samsonov, backed up by rookie Vitek Vanecek, has never faced the Sabres.

Buffalo hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2010-11, but again there might be reason to believe that drought ends this season. While star Jack Eichel, who set a career high with 36 goals in 2019-20 and has 160 points over the last two seasons, returns, the Sabres’ offense got a bigger boost with the addition of Taylor Hall.

The 2018 Hart Trophy-winner when he totaled 93 points, Hall posted 52 points while splitting his 2019-20 season between New Jersey and Arizona.

“I knew coming in that it was a team that I think is poised to take a step. A team that has some really good options offensively,” Hall told the Sabres’ official website.

“I think everyone showed up (to training camp) in good shape, with a good attitude … There’s going to be a lot of challenges along the way. It’s not going to be a smooth road.”

The challenge for Buffalo remains on defense, where it ranked in the bottom half of the league allowing an average of 3.12 goals last season. That might not bode well against the Capitals, who were second in the NHL averaging 3.42 goals.

Linus Ullmark (2.69 GAA in 34 starts in 2019-20) and Carter Hutton (3.18 GAA in 31 games in 2019-20) will be Buffalo’s early options in net.

The Sabres, meanwhile, will be looking for a third straight home win over Washington. Eichel has four points in his last three home games against the Capitals, who will play in Buffalo again Friday night.

–Field Level Media

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