The Sabres have a few reasons to be envious of Washington, but one stat in particular stands out – 104-3.
Buffalo has lost 104 man-games to injury. The Capitals have lost three.
“There is a cyclical aspect of getting injuries and not having injuries,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday. “Unfortunately for us, we’ve had ours at the start of the season with a number of guys.”
The Capitals have not. Forward T.J. Oshie has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury and will sit Friday when the Sabres visit Verizon Center. Forward Lars Eller sat Sunday with an upper-body injury but returned for Wednesday’s 4-3 victory over St. Louis.
Other than those two players, the Capitals have been the healthiest team in the NHL.
Buffalo, of course, is at the other end of the spectrum. According to ManGamesLost.com, the Sabres entered the week at No. 5 in games lost, behind Detroit, Edmonton, Dallas and Boston.
The Sabres will add six more man-games lost to their total when Jack Eichel, Tyler Ennis, Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, Nicolas Deslauriers and Cody McCormick sit out against Washington.
“It’s going to make us stronger in the end,” Bylsma said in KeyBank Center. “It’s going to make us a better team in the end. Hopefully, we get some guys back here in the near future, and there’ll be a few more guys down the road in a couple weeks.”
The Sabres have switched their lines, most notably promoting Marcus Foligno and dropping Zemgus Girgensons.
Foligno skated as the left winger on the top line Thursday with center Ryan O’Reilly and right wing Kyle Okposo. Johan Larsson centered left wing Evander Kane and right wing Brian Gionta. Sam Reinhart was in the middle of William Carrier and Matt Moulson. Girgensons skated as the right winger for center Cal O’Reilly and left wing Derek Grant.
Girgensons was alongside Reinhart and Kane during Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Detroit. Foligno replaced Moulson on the Ryan O’Reilly line.
“We needed a little spark with some speed and some physicality on that line,” Bylsma said.
Eichel and Cole Schneider practiced as the extras. Eichel will not make the trip to Washington so he can stay in Buffalo and get a harder skate. He took part in a few three-on-two drills Thursday.
“He was bouncing in and out of guys, and it’s another step,” Bylsma said. “He wanted to be in some game situations. He wanted to be in some of those type situations to read and react, to move in different directions and test. It was a positive conversation with how he felt practice went.”
The Capitals are 3-1 in their last four games, bumping their record to 12-5-2. They started 3-2-1 but have won nine of 13 to move to third in the Metropolitan Division.
Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are again leading the Caps. Backstrom has 13 assists and 18 points. Ovechkin is on pace for another 50-goal season, finding the net 12 times in 19 games.
The Great Eight should reach two major milestones soon. He has 199 power-play goals, and one more will make him the 18th NHL player ever to reach 200. He has 982 points, just 18 shy of 1,000. He has played 858 games.
Ovechkin scored three goals Wednesday against the Blues, with Washington fans celebrating the hat trick by tossing their Caps caps on the ice. It’s been more than five years since Buffalo had a hat trick at home. Thomas Vanek did it April 5, 2011.
“He’s a dynamic player that keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing all the time,” defenseman Josh Gorges said of Ovechkin. “He’s a guy that’s dangerous when he has the puck anywhere inside the blue line. Even if you think you’re standing close enough to him, you’re probably not. You’ve got to be right on top of him. He gets that shot, and it’s dangerous.
“He’s a guy that you really have to know when he’s on the ice and make sure you’re in his face.”