“This is officially the biggest game of the year for us,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said.
And he’s right as the Washington Capitals (38-30-8, 84 points) host the Buffalo Sabres (37-29-10, 84 points) tonight for a 7pm faceoff. The Caps and Sabres both are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East and both will have five games remaining after this one.
The Caps are three points behind the Florida Panthers for tops in the Southeast Division, but the Panthers have a game in hand. Both the Sabres and Caps are four points behind the Ottawa Senators for 7th place in the East with a game in hand.
Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter has decided to go with Braden Holtby (2-1-1, 2.22 GAA, .927 Save pct.) in net for his third straight start. In Holtby’s last three games, he’s 2-0-1 with a 1.29 GAA and a .955 save percentage.
“Pretty excited for it,” Holtby said. “It’s a big game, but at the same time it’s just another one. It counts as two points just the same as all the others do. Got to go into it with that mindset, but there will be a little extra motivation to have the team going and get a win.”
Dale Hunter will likely go with seven defenseman once again. Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward (day-to-day, lower body, but did skate today) and John Erskine (day-to-day, lower body, didn’t skate today) will likely be the scratches.
Nicklas Backstrom had his third practice today since being cleared for contact.
“He looks good out there,” Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter said. “You watch him play he’s having fun and as a hockey player you’re always glad to be back on the ice. This is what you did since you were a little kid, so just glad to see him with a smile on his face.”
Backstrom has skated 14 times in the last 15 days, but Hunter wouldn’t speculate on how close Backstrom is to return.
Sabres are likely to go with Ryan Miller (29-18-7, 2.48 GAA, .917 Save pct) in net. In his last 17 games, Miller is 13-1-3, 1.78 GAA and .941 save percentage. The Sabres have won four in a row and are 7-1-2 in their last ten.
Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner, Braden Holtby & Matt Hendricks had to say following the morning skate today.
Dale Hunter Morning Skate Audio
Alex Ovechkin Morning Skate Audio
Karl Alzner Morning Skate Audio
Braden Holtby Morning Skate Audio
Matt Hendricks Morning Skate Audio