Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals

 

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The shorthanded Washington Capitals will look to beat the Buffalo Sabres for the fourth time already this year when the two meet on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. The two teams played on Friday night, with Washington winning 4-3 in a shootout to cash as a +103 underdog on the moneyline despite being down four key players. Buffalo is off to a 1-3-1 start as it tries to break a nine-year playoff drought, while the Capitals have a strong 3-0-2 mark so far.

These two teams met in a two-game series in Buffalo to open the season, with Washington winning both by scores of 6-4 and 2-1.

Sabres lose to Washington again

The Sabres at least managed to pick up their first point in three games against Washington on Friday, but have still been unable to break through with a win. Buffalo struck first on Eric Staal’s goal at the 13:27 mark and got a boost from Dylan Cozens’ first career goal in the second, but both teams went scoreless for the final 30 minutes of action including overtime, and the Sabres were unable to score in four attempts in the shootout.

Riley Sheahan had the game-tying goal with just over six minutes to go in the third period, but the Sabres couldn’t do much afterwards and only had 27 shots for the game. Linus Ullmark got his second start of the year in goal and stopped 29 of 32 shots before allowing just one goal in four shootout attempts.

“You’ve got to realize that we’re going to need a little bit more,” Staal said to the Associated Press. “Losing is never acceptable. It doesn’t matter when it is. But there’s also a process to how you win. We’re working at that.”

The Sabres are 2-3 against the spread as they were an underdog in every game prior to Friday, including an outright 6-1 win as a +127 underdog against the Philadelphia Flyers last week. Overs are 3-2 for Buffalo so far, including 2-1 in the games against the Capitals.

Buffalo has managed 2.8 goals per game thus far on 32.2 shots per game and 17.65 percent on the power play. Opponents are scoring 3.2 goals per game against the Sabres on 26.6 shots per contest, with Buffalo killing off 83.3 percent of penalties.

Free agent acquisition Taylor Hall has six points, tied for the team lead with star Jack Eichel. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen leads Buffalo with a +4 while racking up 23 hits already. Goaltender Carter Hutton has made three starts with a 1-2 record, 2.65 goals against average and 0.899 save percentage.

Winger Kyle Okposo is expected to make his season debut on Sunday after missing time with a lower body injury. Hutton is dealing with a head injury and is officially questionable, and it seems like Ullmark will start in goal again. Center Zegmus Girgensons will miss the entire season with a hamstring injury after putting up 19 points in 69 games a year ago.

Washington wins with depleted roster

Despite missing four crucial pieces due to Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov all being in COVID protocol, Washington was able to take down the Sabres yet again on Friday in its home opener. A late first period goal by Niklas Backstrom erased Buffalo’s early lead, while Nic Dowd and Jakub Vrana were able to tally goals in the second period. John Carlson converted the only successful shootout attempt for either team.

Vrana was the only player in the game to finish with multiple points as he assisted on the Dowd goal and ended with a +3. Vitek Vanecek stopped 24 of 27 shot attempts to pick up his second win in the first three starts of his rookie season.

“Sometimes when you’re faced with adversity, those are the sweetest wins: the ones where you have to overcome some obstacles,” head coach Peter Laviolette said to the Associated Press. “We certainly missed the guys that aren’t in there, but we felt good about the lineup and it was a really good win — a really good, hard-fought win for us.”

Washington is 4-1 against the spread, as it was able to cover a +1.5 puckline in both of its overtime losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins as an underdog. Four of Washington’s five games have gone over the betting total, with the only under coming in a 2-1 win over Buffalo in the second game of the year.

The Capitals have enjoyed a prolific offense so far with 3.8 goals on 26 shots per game and 22.22 percent on the power play. Washington has allowed 3.4 goals and 28.2 shots per game while killing off 83.3 percent of penalties.

Winger Tom Wilson leads the Capitals with six points, and four other players are right behind with five, including Vrana who leads the team with a +5. Vanecek has gone 2-0-1 in his first three career starts with a .898 save percentage and 2.9 goals against average.

The four Capitals in COVID protocol will miss at least the next three games. Washington’s injury list grew larger on Friday, as Wilson left with a lower body injury and seems unlikely to play. Defenseman Michal Kempny will be out until May with a torn Achillies after posting 18 points and a +19 last season.

The Bottom Line
What to bet on this game.

Full-Game Side Bet
Rating:

Beating a team four times in just over a week in the regular season is difficult enough even with Washington at full strength, and considering the absences this is a good price to take Buffalo to finally break through in this matchup. Losing those four crucial pieces is tough enough for Washington, and adding Wilson to the injury list leaves the Capitals down too much high-end talent to win again here.

Washington’s mark of scoring on nearly 14 percent of its shot attempts will come down some eventually, and the Capitals don’t figure to generate nearly as many dangerous situations down three of their top seven point scorers from last year. Defense is even a bigger concern as the Capitals have allowed 14 high-danger chances, and Vanecek is an unproven rookie who has been below average in two of three starts.

Buffalo has shown some ability on offense even if the consistency isn’t there yet, and Eichel isn’t going to be held without a goal forever. Look for the Sabres to be a little sharper on offense Sunday and finally break through against the Capitals.

Prediction:
Sabres -125

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Full-Game Total Pick
Rating:

The Sabres have the makings of a pretty decent offense this year, especially with Hall fitting in quickly and regaining his form of years past after struggling last season with the Coyotes. Cozens is also an excellent young talent who could get rolling after scoring his first career goal, and the Sabres should start to convert on a few more of their high-danger chances once Eichel finds the back of the net and Rasmus Dahlin starts making a few more plays.

Goaltending is the biggest question mark for Buffalo, and while Ullmark is Buffalo’s best option at this point, he’s far from elite. Washington’s offense is nowhere near its full capacity, but there’s still enough depth to tally a couple more goals in this one.

Prediction:
Over 6 (-105)