WASHINGTON – The Sabres got a shot at Washington’s backup goaltender Friday. He had a lot of motivation to beat them.
The Capitals tabbed Philipp Grubauer to face Buffalo, giving the goalie his first NHL start in front of his parents. It was also his 25th birthday.
It turned into a three-pronged party when he celebrated a 3-1 victory. Grubauer, a native of Germany who is in his fifth season with the Capitals, welcomed his parents to the country for Thanksgiving and his birthday.
“My parents are pretty proud,” Grubauer said in Verizon Center. “They’ve only watched at 1 o’clock in the morning or at 2 a.m. in the morning. It’s actually nice to have them here for Thanksgiving and for my birthday.”
The netminder, who was making just his fifth appearance of the season in place of Braden Holtby, gave his mother the most credit for turning him into an NHL netminder. She saw him make 32 saves against the Sabres to improve to 3-1-1.
“I think my mom coached me more than my dad,” he said. “My mom took me to the games, and that’s kind of how I started playing hockey because she took me to see the games.”
If Dan Bylsma had his way, Friday’s game would have been Evander Kane’s first since breaking his ribs in the season opener. The left winger was instead playing his ninth.
“I think we all would have liked Evander to have six weeks off and fully recover and fully heal,” Bylsma said. “Evander wanted to come back after two weeks. There was some compromise there.”
Kane had been skating 19:20 per night since his comeback, and he added 19:36 against the Capitals. Despite the workload, Bylsma has no doubt Kane has been limited. The left winger has no goals and two assists.
“I don’t think you can disregard what breaking four ribs does to your body,” the coach said. “It’s also not an injury where it just goes away and doesn’t affect you for a period of time. But I think the last few games he’s started to skate the way he can skate and get in the way he can get in on the forecheck and get pucks.”
Zemgus Girgensons has recorded just one goal and three assists in the Sabres’ 21 games. It led to him being dropped to the fourth line with center Derek Grant and right wing Matt Moulson.
“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.”
Girgensons entered the game eighth on the team with 34 shots, but he had connected on just 2.9 percent. He played just 9:07 against the Capitals and took one shot.
Sabres prospect Vaclav Karabacek is finally in line to make his professional debut. Karabacek, drafted in the second round in 2014, suffered an injury with Rochester during the preseason. The Amerks assigned him to Elmira of the ECHL on Friday.
The winger had 24 goals and 39 points in 64 games during his final season of junior hockey last year.