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Sabres ready for tough test vs. league-leading Capitals

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The surprising Buffalo Sabres will face the toughest challenge of the season when they visit the first-place Washington Capitals on Friday.

The Capitals and Sabres are separated by just one point in the standings, with Washington's 21 points leading the NHL. While the Capitals are no strangers to Presidents' Trophy territory, Buffalo's hot start has increased hope that the team can reach the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.

The Sabres were successful despite a crowded schedule that saw them play their first 13 games over a 26-day stretch. After Monday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes, the Sabres enjoyed their first three-day break of the season leading up to their date in Washington.

According to Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger, the Sabres spent the time "improving on the foundation that we've laid down," a plan that will continue throughout more regular off days in November.

"Each week there's one day where we can do a little bit more work maybe, a little bit more grinding than we've been able to do for the last (26) days," Krueger said.

Monday's game was Buffalo's first home loss of the season, and Krueger felt his team "kind of drifted" after taking an early two-goal lead.

"I thought we got a little bit softer on our defensive game after the quick lead against Arizona," Krueger said. "We let a little bit loose. We found our way back in again and then a little bit loose at the end of the game again, the last four or five minutes. Then in overtime, we were strong again."

The Capitals are returning to their home ice after a 4-0-1 road trip that included a 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday. Despite the challenges of the travel-heavy early schedule, the Capitals have an outstanding 7-1-1 record in away games.

"We've (won) in different ways every game it seems, so it's great, it shows that we're confident in all those situations," Washington goalie Braden Holtby said. "We've had success, and the even better part is we know we could've played better in every single one of those games, so there's ... even more room to grow."

Holtby is likely to be back between the pipes on Friday. The veteran goalie is 4-0-1 with a .916 save percentage over his last five appearances.

Tuesday's victory saw Alex Ovechkin score the overtime winner as part of a four-point (two goals, two assists) night. Ovechkin now has 669 career goals, moving him ahead of Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille for 12th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.

John Carlson also scored twice against Toronto. With 23 points in October, Carlson set a new Capitals record for most points in a month by a defenseman.

Washington forward Nic Dowd is day-to-day after suffering a lower-body injury on Tuesday.

Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour participated in full practices this week and will travel with the team to Washington. Montour has yet to play this season after suffering a hand injury during training camp, but seems on pace to play either against the Capitals or on Saturday when the Sabres host the Islanders.

The Capitals are 11-3-0 against the Sabres dating back to March 2015. Buffalo is 0-5-2 in its last seven trips to Washington.

--Field Level Media

Updated November 1, 2019

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