WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin seems to be making history every night he steps onto the ice.
His second consecutive hat trick Friday night in a 6-5 shootout win over Carolina was the 22nd of his career, moving him into 11th all-time. He is also 16 points shy of passing Sergei Fedorov for the most by a Russian-born player in NHL history.
Ovechkin has helped the Washington Capitals win 11 of their last 13, and they sit atop the Metropolitan Division entering a 7 p.m. game tonight against the Buffalo Sabres in Capital One Arena. The Sabres have won two in a row after a five-game winless streak, but this is another game that could measure their progress 32 games into the season.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. Slowing Ovechkin: For all Ovechkin has accomplished during his career, the 33-year-old is playing at another level this season. He has a 13-game point streak and goals in nine of his last 10 to take the NHL lead with 28 in 31 games.
With a hat trick Friday night, Ovechkin passed Rick Martin, Glenn Anderson and Teemu Selanne for 11th all-time. He is the 18th different player in the modern era (since 1943-44) to score 28 goals in his team's first 31 games, and third to do so since 1993-94.
Ovechkin has 30 goals among 46 points in 45 career games against the Sabres. During its recent winless streak, Buffalo gave too much time and space in its own zone. That cannot be the case tonight if it hopes to slow down Ovechkin, who loves to set up for a one-timer in the left circle.
It's no secret that's how Ovechkin has used that shot to score many of his 635 goals over the last 14 seasons. Still, teams give him too much space to rip an uncontested slap shot.
2. Keep killing: The Sabres have killed 12 of their last 13 penalties over the last five games, giving them the NHL's 10th-best penalty kill this season. Despite missing defensemen Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella, the Sabres have done a better job limiting second chances in front of the net while challenging opponents near the blue line.
This could be their toughest test yet. The Capitals' power play ranks fourth in the league at 27.4 percent, and of course, it all starts with Ovechkin, who leads the team with eight power-play goals. Center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson are tied for the team lead with 16 power-play points.
Like Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov also likes to set up for one-timers on the power play, ranking second on the team with 21 shots on the man advantage.
3. Lineup: Scandella will return to the lineup against the Capitals, but coach Phil Housley would not reveal the corresponding scratch. Scandella, who has one goal and four assists with a minus-3 rating in 23 games, has missed the past eight games with an upper-body injury.
Defenseman Matt Hunwick was also recalled from his conditioning assignment with Rochester but will only participate in warm-ups after playing in the Amerks' 3-1 win over the Cleveland Monsters on Friday night.
Neither McCabe nor Casey Nelson will be ready to return. Rasmus Ristolainen, Lawrence Pilut and Zach Bogosian all sat out practice Friday for rest, while the forward lines remained the same from a 3-1 win over the Coyotes on Thursday.
We do know they'll be without Patrik Berglund, who was suspended by the team for "failure to report."
All of the #Sabres forwards are accounted for. No changes to the lines. But the D is missing Ristolainen -- as well as Pilut and Bogosian. Assistant Chris Hajt skating with Elie on defense drills as a pair.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) December 14, 2018
The Capitals recalled defenseman Tyler Lewington, a seventh-round draft pick in 2013, as insurance in the event of an injury during warm-ups because Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos are out with injuries.
4. In net: Carter Hutton, who made 25 saves in his return from injury Thursday, will start in goal for the Sabres, which means Linus Ullmark will likely be in goal Sunday when Buffalo plays the Bruins in Boston at 5 p.m.
With the Capitals playing the second night of a back-to-back, backup goalie Pheonix Copley will start against the Sabres. Copley is 6-2-1 in 10 games, nine starts, and a .902 save percentage. He hasn't played a game in nine days. Braden Holtby, Washington's starter, was in net against the Hurricanes Friday when the Capitals won in the sixth shootout round.
5. By the numbers: Sabres winger Sam Reinhart is on a career-best eight-game point streak with five goals and six assists in that span. He has 24 points in his last 24 games. ... Jack Eichel's 15 multi-point games this season rank third in the NHL behind Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. ... Jeff Skinner, who scored his 22nd goal of the season Thursday, is on pace to tie the second-highest goal total in franchise history, trailing only Alexander Mogilny in 1992-93 (76 goals). ... The Sabres are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games against the Capitals.