The Capitals have been a big disappointment so far this season. They entered the campaign as heavy favorites to win the Southeast, but are currently third in the division and seven points in back of first-place Florida. Also, if the season ended today, Washington would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.
Despite all of that, Washington managed to put forth a strong effort Wednesday against the visiting New York Rangers, posting a 4-1 win over the Blueshirts. The loss ended New York's five-game winning streak and also allowed Boston to leap past the Blueshirts for the top seed in the East.
"We talked about getting the lead this morning and coming out to a good start," said Washington head coach Dale Hunter. "I think we did that here tonight and we played a full 60 minutes for once. It showed in the result."
Tomas Vokoun was terrific in net for Washington on Wednesday, turning aside 31 shots to lead the Caps to just their sixth win in their last 15 trips to the ice (6-8-1). It was Vokoun's first start since Dec. 13 and he improved to 13-8-0 on the season.
The Caps are hoping to get defenseman Mike Green back soon after he began practicing earlier this week. Green has played in just eight games this year and was last in the lineup on Nov. 11. Washington is 8-0 when the former All- Star plays this season and 10-15-2 without him. It's still not certain when Green will see actual game action, but for now he is considered day-to-day.
"It's just maintenance right now, making sure that I'm on top of my stuff and getting better." Green told the Capitals web site. "I don't think I'll be 100 percent for a long time, but I've just got to get to that stage where I can play."
Tonight's tilt ends a brief two-game homestand for Washington, which is 12-5-1 as the host this year compared to a 6-10-1 record on the road.
The Sabres enter tonight having lost four of their last five games and they are coming off Wednesday's 3-1 set back in New Jersey. It was the fourth straight road loss for Buffalo, which is 8-7-0 away from western New York this season.
Buffalo could get forward Tyler Ennis back tonight after he missed the last four games with an ankle injury. However, defenseman Andrej Sekera is out indefinitely after sustaining an upper body injury in Wednesday's game against New Jersey.
The Sabres beat Washington by a 4-2 score at home on Monday, giving Buffalo a 2-0 lead in the season series. The Sabres also recorded a 5-1 victory over the visiting Capitals on Nov. 26 to end a three-game skid in this series. Washington is still riding a four-game home winning streak against the Sabres.