The Buffalo Sabres' lack of scoring has been a seasonlong issue. But the team's bad timing award might be in serving as the opponent Monday night in the Verizon Center.
The Washington Capitals, of all teams, are in a dreadful offensive slump and the clock has to be ticking on that drought to run out. The Sabres, obviously, hope it lasts. Especially when you consider they meet the Caps again Friday in KeyBank Center.
Since beating Buffalo, 3-1, on Nov. 25, the Caps have lost three straight -- and have scored just three goals in those games. While Buffalo remains last in the league in offense at 2.0 goals per game, the Caps are a surprising 18th at 2.52. They were second last year at 3.02.
The Caps have scored just 13 goals in their last seven games and had been blanked for five straight periods before Nicklas Backstrom scored in the third period of Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss at Tampa Bay. Their power play is just 3 for 24 in the last five games. Since netting a hat trick Nov. 23 against St. Louis, Alexander Ovechkin doesn't have a goal in his last four games and remains one power-play goal shy of becoming the 18th player in NHL history to score 200 with the man advantage.
But the Caps are 11-2-2 in their last 15 games against Buffalo. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, of course, has plenty of history with the Capitals from his days in Pittsburgh so he's wary.
"I didn't like watching their game and hearing that, and other things they were saying about other portions of their game," Bylsma said, referring to the Tampa loss. "At times in my past, the power play is not going well but they still have good players, have the pieces that make it a good power play. They're still an offensive team with all the pieces. They're a scary one."
"They're a good team, no matter what," said Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly. "You look at the players they have and what they can create you have to be prepared as if they're playing their best hockey. They've got players who possess the puck. If you make mistakes, they'll make you pay."
The Capitals' comments after Saturday's game were reminiscent of what you've heard from the Sabres several times this year.
"We’re looking for that real precise goal,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to simplify a little bit. Just shoot the puck. We’ve got some good shooters. Right now they’re a little bit dry.”
"We need to be more gritty and go in front of the net,” Backstrom said. “Instead of all three guys trying to cycle the puck all of the time, we need at least one guy in front of the net for shots and then rebounds. I mean, that’s the kind of goals that go in these days. We have to be able to go in front of the net and go to the dirty areas and create second chances.”
Rookie William Carrier practiced on the Sabres' top line Sunday with O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo and figures to be there again Monday. He was flipping roles with Matt Moulson at left wing on the fourth line but Bylsma stuck with Carrier most of the way against Boston.
"My role with that line is to bring energy," said Carrier, who has just one goal in 14 games but has a plus-2 rating. "Win my battles down low and try to get those guys the puck, screen the goalie, whatever I need. They just want me to keep playing the same game. I showed what I could do on the fourth line and I think they were happy with that. Then going up, they want to me to find a way to get those guys the puck, give them chances to score."
"He's been great," O'Reilly said. "You see the presence he brings on the ice with his energy and intensity every shift. He's getting in there and if he's not getting the puck he's making the big hit. It's nice to see the certain life he brings. If we're not creating scoring chances, he's out there creating space and making it tough for guys."
Carrier said he's not frustrated about his lack of goals, a feeling that is normally easy for a rookie to slip into.
"My game is not about points, especially here," he said. "It's about being a plus player for my team and I know points will come. I've had chances the last few games so they'll come."
It's a busy week for the Sabres, who head home immediately after Monday's game to host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. Going back to back with Ovechkin and McDavid is a pretty brutal segment of the schedule, especially when you consider the Caps are the opponent again on Friday.
"For us, we're only worried about Washington. That's how we have to be," O'Reilly said. "These are two teams that have a lot of skill and you have to play a compete game. If you try to open it up, they will find a way to put it in the back of he net."