WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin is going for history. It’ll be up to Anders Nilsson to stop him.
Here are Five Things to Know as the Sabres visit Washington on Friday afternoon.
1. Nilsson will start in net.
Buffalo’s backup goaltender will make his sixth appearance of the season in Verizon Center. Nilsson is 2-1-2 with a .951 save percentage and 1.74 goals-against average.
Nilsson’s last game was against one of the Eastern Conference’s other powerhouses. He stopped 46 shots plus all three in a shootout to lift the Sabres over Pittsburgh, 2-1, Saturday.
“With his last couple starts, he’s earned another opportunity in net,” coach Dan Bylsma said Friday in Verizon Center.
Nilsson has faced the Capitals four times, going 0-2-1 with a .874 save percentage.
2. Ovechkin will look to shoot on power play.
Washington’s captain, who is on pace for another 50-goal season, is just one goal away from 200 power-play goals in his career. He will become the 18th player in NHL history to reach the milestone.
Ovechkin has had success against the Sabres (as he’s had with most opponents). In 39 games against Buffalo, Ovechkin has 26 goals and 41 points. The key to slowing him?
“Not let him take that one-timer,” Bylsma said. “I wish that was 100 percent deniable, but it’s discipline in the game. You can’t let them get to the power play very often.”
3. Washington has history of punishing Sabres.
The Capitals have earned a point in 21 of their last 27 games against the Sabres and in 12 of their last 14 home games. They are 17-6-4 overall, plus 10-2-2 in Verizon Center. They have earned a point in 39 of their last 44 games against teams from the Atlantic Division.
In addition to Ovechkin’s success, center Nicklas Backstrom has 26 points in 31 games against Buffalo.
4. Capitals thrive at home.
Washington is closing a five-game homestand with the 5 p.m. game. The Caps are 7-3 in Verizon Center, including 3-1 in the opening four games of their extended stay.
They’ll rely on backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to deliver another win. He is 2-1-1 with a .925 save percentage in his four appearances behind Braden Holtby. Grubauer has played the Sabres three times, going 0-0-2 with a .951 save percentage and 1.11 goals-against average.
5. Bylsma will keep an eye on Zemgus Girgensons.
The Buffalo forward has one goal and three assists in 20 games. After skating with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart at the start of Wednesday’s game against Detroit, Girgensons will drop down to skate alongside left wing Derek Grant and center Cal O’Reilly.
“A lot of that is puck play,” Bylsma said. “Last game in the first period, he had three, four hits for us and was working hard in that area. Just a lot of his puck play and puck decision has to improve for him to be an effective offensive player.”
In Girgensons’ favor is he has three points in his last three games against Washington. With Cole Schneider as the healthy scratch, the other lines are expected to be:
Marcus Foligno-Ryan O’Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Kane-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta
William Carrier-Reinhart-Matt Moulson