Caps looks to continue dominance on Sabres’ home ice

NHL Hockey

A road game against the Buffalo Sabres might be what the Washington Capitals need to end their current rough stretch.

Looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat on Friday night, the Capitals will be aiming for their fourth straight win in Buffalo.

Washington is in the mix for the East Division title, but the team is struggling at the moment.

From Feb. 16-March 28, the Capitals went 17-3-1. Since then, they have lost four of six, and they need to rebound from a 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday and a 4-2 setback against the Boston Bruins on Thursday.

The first-place Islanders hold a two-point lead over the second-place Capitals.

“Obviously, (this) is not where we want to be,” Washington forward Nicklas Backstrom said. “I think we’ve just got to learn from (those recent games). We’re playing under some tough conditions, but it should be a challenge for us. We should do better. …

“We’ve got to find a way to turn this around.”

The Friday contest will be the sixth in nine days for the Capitals, but they have gone 5-0-1 against the Sabres this season and have outscored them 14-5 in the three games in Buffalo.

Alex Ovechkin, who recorded his 20th goal on Thursday, has eight goals and five assists in his past 12 games versus Buffalo. Teammate T.J. Oshie has five goals and four assists in the past eight games, and he has two goals and five assists against the Sabres this season.

Washington’s Ilya Samsonov got the start on Thursday, making 28 saves, so it’s likely Vitek Vanecek will start on Friday.

Vanecek, the NHL rookie leader with 15 wins, has stopped 60 of 62 shots in splitting his past two starts, and he is 4-0-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average versus Buffalo this season. He made 23 saves in a 6-0 win at Buffalo on March 15 for his first NHL shutout.

The Sabres’ 3-0-2 run ended Thursday with a 6-3 home defeat to the New Jersey Devils. Victor Olofsson scored his 11th goal of the season and Kyle Okposo notched an assist for his ninth point in nine games for the Sabres, who have an NHL-low 24 points.

Though the Sabres went 4-3-1 in the season series against lowly New Jersey, they are a combined 1-16-1 against the top four teams in the East — the New York Islanders, Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston. All but three of the Sabres’ 17 remaining scheduled games will come against those teams.

“It’s a challenge that we have to get excited about,” interim Sabres coach Don Granato said. “What’s relevant for us is to look forward to that challenge. … It will make us better. (We’ll be) a better team for the future if we embrace that challenge.”

Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark made 32 saves on Thursday as his three-game winning streak ended. He is 1-2-1 with a 2.68 goals-against average versus Washington this season, but with the back-to-back scenario and Carter Hutton (lower-body injury) day-to-day, Dustin Tokarski (0-3-1, 3.79 GAA) could make his fourth start of the season on Friday.

Buffalo forward Taylor Hall could be a healthy scratch for a third consecutive contest as he continues to be the subject of trade rumors. Meanwhile, the Sabres are still without star Jack Eichel, who has not played since March 7 because of an upper-body injury.

–Field Level Media

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