Fresh off Saturday night’s 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Capitals (26-6-2, 54 points) are back in action tonight in Buffalo, where they’ll face the Sabres (15-16-4, 34 points) at Niagara Center (7 p.m., CSN+). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:
They don’t know Jack, yet: This will be the Caps’ first look at rookie phenom Jack Eichel, who is second on the Sabres in goals (11) and third in points (20) after 35 games. Eichel has six points in his last three games.
“The game is always evolving and there’s new stars,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “Who’s going to replace the (Sidney) Crosbys and (Alex) Ovechkins? It’s going to be the (Connor) McDavids and Eichels.
“The thing about seeing McDavid is his speed. He does everything at lightning speed and it looked pretty easy. Eichel’s got fantastic hands, he’s got those exceptional puck skills and vision and he makes it look easy.
“He slows it down when needs to slow it down and he speeds it up when he needs to. And he’s got a little bit of an edge. He’s going to be a dynamic player -- he already is right now -- and we’ll see how it develops further down the road.”
Getting to know you: This is the first of back-to-back games between the Caps and Sabres, who will face off again on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
While the Caps have won seven in a row, the Sabres are 2-0-1 in their last three games, including a 6-3 win over the Bruins on Saturday.
“The good thing about playing Buffalo back to back is … everything we do well or don’t do well we can pull out of the fire and use the next day,” Trotz said. “We’re going to have a feel for them at the end of the night and have a real good feel for how they play. I think they’re much improved from the start of the year.”
Trotz noted the Sabres are so deep offensively that they have a former 36-goal scorer, Matt Moulson, and a former 27-goal scorer, David Legwand, on the fourth line.
No Carly?: The Caps will learn before the game whether No. 1 defenseman John Carlson will be in th lineup. Carlson came off the ice early on Monday with a lower body injury and Trotz said he would leave Carlson’s availability up to his defenseman. He has a games-played streak of 412 games dating back to 2010-11.
If Carlson cannot play, Connor Carrick will make his first NHL appearance since the 2013-14 season.
Between the pipes: The Caps will turn to Braden Holtby (22-4-1, 1.92, .932) who is 5-2-1 lifetime against the Sabres with a .2.90 GAA and .890 SP. The Sabres will turn to backup Linus Ullmark (5-7-2, 2.64, .911), who will be making his first start against the Caps.
Special teams: The Caps rank second in the NHL on the power play (25.2 percent) and fifth in penalty killing (84.7 percent). Buffalo ranks ninth on the power play (20.4 percent) and 23rd in penalty killing (78.2 percent).
Rattling the Sabres: Since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Capitals are 15-6-4 against the Sabres , including 6-1-2 in their last nine meetings.
Kane will play: Sabres second-line left wing Evander Kane is expected to be in the lineup following reports he is involved in a sex-offense investigation relating to an alleged incident at a Buffalo hotel Sunday morning.
“Obviously you guys are all aware of the situation that occurred, or that's going on right now," Kane said. There's not a whole lot I can say. I just want to say I've done nothing wrong; I look forward to clearing my name. I respect the legal process and, unfortunately at this time, there's not much more I can talk about."
Three Caps at WJCs: Capitals prospects Ilya Samsonov (Russia), Jonas Siegenthaler (Switzerland) and Vitek Vanecek (Czech Rebublic) are representing their countries at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
Vanecek, who was selected by the Capitals in the second round, 39th overall, in 2014, stopped 20 of 22 shots in the Czech Republic’s 2-1 shootout loss to Russia on Dec. 26.
Siegenthaler, taken in the second round, 57th overall, in 2015, recorded two penalty minutes in Switzerland’s 8-3 loss to Sweden on Dec. 26.
And Samsonov, drafted by the Capitals in the first round, 22nd overall, in 2015, served as the backup in Russia’s 2-1 shootout victory against the Czech Republic.
Here are the projected lineups for tonight:
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body)
Scratched: Stanislav Galiev