News, notes and quotes as the Capitals begin a stretch of three games in four nights, starting with back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres. The Caps and Sabres face off tonight at 7 at Niagara Center (CSN+):
Where they stand: The Caps have won seven in a row, are 14-1-1 in their last 16 games and own the NHL’s second-best record (26-6-2, 54 points), behind only the Dallas Stars (27-7-3, 57 points). This is the best start in franchise history. Back in 2009-10, when the Caps won the Presidents’ Trophy, they were 21-7-6 for 48 points after 34 games. The Capitals have outscored their opponents 53-31 in their last 16 games.
Injury update: Defenseman John Carlson sat out Sunday’s practice after getting “twisted up a little bit” in the Caps’ 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, according to head coach Barry Trotz. Carlson has played in 412 consecutive games and Trotz said he expects Carlson to be in the lineup tonight.
Goaltender Braden Holtby left practice early on Sunday because of cramping due to dehydration but he is expected to make his 29th start of the season tonight in Buffalo. Holtby (22-4-1, 1.92 GAA, .932 SP) is coming off a strong 29-save performance against the Canadiens.
Caps leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin (17 goals) also practiced on Sunday after absorbing a shot by teammate Matt Niskanen in the arm late in Saturday’s win.
“He seems fine,” Trotz told reporters on Sunday. “He was shooting some pucks, so he’s good.”
Praising Chimmer: Trotz said he likes the focus he has seen in Jason Chimera’s game this season. The 36-year-old left wing has 10 goals and 10 assists in 34 games and is on pace for a career-high 24 goals and 48 points.
“I just think Jason is in a better place in terms of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to get him to do,” Trotz said. “He’s playing with passion and he’s playing under control. He’s playing with more purpose in his game. He’s got good focus and he’s enjoying the role he’s in.”
Checking/scoring line: The Capitals’ third line of Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson picked up a pair of goals in Saturday night’s win and has been the team’s most reliable and hardest-hitting lines since being assembled earlier this month when Wilson replaced Andre Burakovsky at right wing.
“They are all good workers, number one,” Trotz said of Chimera, Beagle and Wilson. “They have speed, tenacity and they’re physical, but there’s some skill on that line. They’ve developed into having some chemistry and they’re playing the right way.”
Don’t be surprised if Trotz tries to get his third line out against the Sabres’ top trio of Evander Kane 98 goals), Jack Eichel (11 goals) and Tyler Ennis (3 goals).
“I’m not afraid to play them against top lines,” Trotz said. “It gives us some good flexibility on the road. If you don’t get that ideal matchup you need a line where you say, ‘If they want to go against you, go at it. Shut them down or outscore them.’”
Nice Schmidt-uation: Since replacing Brooks Orpik (lower body) on the Caps’ top defense pairing, Nate Schmidt has opened some eyes around the NHL with his speed and decision making.
He set up two goals in the Caps’ 3-1 win over Montreal, snapping a shot toward the net that was deflected by Evgeny Kuznetsov for a first-period goal, and generating an offensive rush with a hard pass to Tom Wilson that set up Chimera’s third-period goal.
“It’s one of the things we talk about, if you can’t get a clear lane (to the net),” Schmidt said of his shot/pass to Kuznetsov. “Kuzy’s one of those elusive guys down low. He can dip inside and come outside and be there in front of the net. We work at in practice and he’s one of the guys who can do that.”
Schmidt, 24, now has one goal and five assists in 29 games, matching his point totals in 29 games as a rookie in 2013-14.