The Capitals (33-7-3, 69 points) visit the Buffalo Sabres (17-22-4, 38 points) tonight at First Niagara Center (6:30 p.m., CSN). Here’s our AAA Keys to the Game:
Grubi time?: With the New York Rangers expected to go with backup goaltender Antti Raanta on Sunday against the Capitals, the Caps could go with Philipp Grubauer tonight against the Sabres and Braden Holtby on Sunday at home against the Rangers. Grubauer is 5-3-1 this season with a 2.23 GAA and .922 SP.
Streakers: The Caps have won five straight and are just the fifth team in NHL history to win 33 or more of their first 43 games in a season, joining the Boston Bruins (1929-30: 37), Chicago Blackhawks (2012-13: 34), Pittsburgh Penguins (2012-13: 34) and Montreal Canadiens (1944-45: 33). The Caps hold a five-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won 10 straight, in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
Final meeting: This is the third and final meeting between the Caps and Sabres. The Caps recorded back-to-back wins over the Sabres on Dec. 28 (2-0) and Dec. 30 (5-2). “We need to limit their time and space in the neutral zone,” Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt said.
They now know Jack: Sabers rookie Jack Eichel (13 goals, 14 assists) managed two assists against the Capitals the last time the two teams met. “He’s a 19-year-old kid with the body of a mid-20s guy,” Schmidt said. “You don’t find guys like him very often. I think over the course of this year he’s getting better. It’s a unique challenge.”
Road trippin’: The Capitals are 16-4-2 on the road this season, ranking first in the NHL in road wins (16), road points (34) and point percentage (.773). The Caps are 12-2-2 in their last 16 road games. Nicklas Backstrom has recorded 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 22 games on the road this season, leading the Eastern Conference and ranking tied for fifth in the NHL in road points. Evgeny Kuznetsov has 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) in 22 games on the road this season and ranks tied for second in the Eastern Conference in road points. Braden Holtby ranks tied for first in the NHL in wins (13), tied for third in goals-against average (1.98) and sixth in save percentage (.933) on the road.
Back-to-backs: This will be the Caps’ ninth set of back-to-back games this season They are 13-2-1 in back-to-back games this season, outscoring opponents 60-35. The Caps are 8-0-0 in the first game of back-to-back sets and 5-2-1 on the back ends. After this weekend the Caps will have four more back-to-back sets.
Rattling Sabres: Since the beginning of the 2008-09 season, the Capitals are 17-6-4 against the Sabres and have earned a point in 10 of their last 11 contests against Buffalo (8-1-2). Alex Ovechkin has earned 26 goals and 15 assists in 38 career games against the Sabres.
Saturday Night Fever: The Caps are 9-0-2 this season on Saturdays and have outscored opponents 39-23 in those games.