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              Capitals @ Sabres Preview         by: Sparky      March 26, 2002


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Washington Capitals
Buffalo Sabres

March 26th, 2002   7:00 pm
       The Stats
30-32-9-1, 70 points
11th, Eastern Conference
2-0-0-0 vs. Washington
2.58 Goals/Game (17th)
2.47 GAA (11th)
13.1% PP (28th)
86.9% PK (6th)
18-14-4-0 at home
2.20 G/G
1.80 GAA
2.40 G/G 
1.90 GAA

Top Scorers
M. Satan - 26
J. Dumont - 22
M. Afinogenov - 21
A. Zhitnik - 32
S. Barnes - 31
M. Satan - 30
M. Satan - 56
S. Barnes - 48
2 tied with - 40
M. Biron 26-27-8, 2.29, .912
B. Essensa 0-5-0, 2.91, .850
Sparky's Take
Magic 8-Ball
       Sparky's Take
Tuesday night the Capitals square off with the Buffalo Sabres for a game with huge playoff implications on both sides.  The Caps and Sabres are both at the head of the pack chasing Montreal for the 8th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  With the Rangers struggling and the Penguins inconsistent, Washington and Buffalo seem like the primary challengers for Montreal.  Interestingly, these two teams are polar opposites of each other.  The Caps feature a high powered offense and excellent power play while the Sabres thrive behind incredible goaltending, solid defense and a smothering penalty kill.  It should make for an interesting game, even without the primary plot.

The Caps were sitting pretty going into Pittsburgh, but now have got to be shaking their heads.  They had a chance to reach .500 and move into the 8th spot on Sunday night, but instead came out soft and asleep and got blown out of the Igloo by a Penguins squad decimated by injuries.  Washington looks like world beaters one night, but look like an expansion team the next, and Ron Wilson is getting increasingly frustrated with his squad.  Jaromir Jagr is the lone bright spot in the mix with 11 points in his last 6 games, but the Pittsburgh game just illustrated how he can be neutralized if his team mates aren't playing up to speed.  The Caps also missed Sergei Gonchar, still out due to concussion thanks to Darcy Tucker.  Gonchar could have made a difference early on the power play and his agility and smart defense might have protected Kolzig a little better than Boileau did in his stead.

The Sabres and trying to make a push for the 8 spot, but they can't seem to get a real hot streak going.  Biron is typically stellar in net for Buffalo, the defense is almost always impenetrable (1.9 GAA in the last 10 games), but the offense just isn't holding up it's end of the deal.  They have tallied three or more goals in regulation only 4 times in the last 10 games and have been shut out twice.  They'll occasionally put up big numbers (5 goals against Detroit and Ottawa), but those games are increasingly few and far between.  They'll have a chance to score against a struggling Capitals defense, and could make life miserable for Washington forwards at the same time with their cycling game.

Players to Watch:

-Miroslav Satan is very familiar to most Caps fans.  He's always seemed to score well against Washington, although he goes into Tuesday's game on a three-game scoring drought.  Satan is a slippery forward.  He's very tall and has great reach and agility, but is thin so he can be outmuscled in front of the net or on the boards.  Satan is very clever with the puck and is one of the better shooters in the league, especially from in close.  His versatility is the primary weapon of the Buffalo power play.

-Alexei Zhitnik is the Sabres leader on the blue line.  He is on pace to challenge his career high of 40 assists (set in 93-94 with LA), and is the quarterback for the power play.  He's not great defensively as he can be beaten with size or speed, but is not a liability either.  Zhitnik plays a very physical game but has incredibly good hands and an excellent eye for passing lanes.  He is skilled at intercepting passes and quickly starting couter-rushes through the neutral zone.

-Martin Biron was in a tough situation this season.  The Sabres let Dominic Hasek go, annointing Biron his successor, and Marty has lived up to the role.  He's one of the quickest little goalies around, possessing a rapier-like glove hand and incredible agility.  He moves side to side faster than anyone in the NHL and likes to show the 5-hole then close it at the last minute.  The best way to beat him is to screen him and bump him, but he doesn't anger easily and will not be shaken off his game easily.  He's given up more than 2 goals in a game only once in his last 9 starts.

Without Sergei Gonchar the Caps may not have the personnel to win this game.  They are exhausted from the travel and stress, have not jelled following the Oates trade, and are relying too much on Jaromir Jagr.  Beating the Sabres often requires 60 minutes of bumping, cycling, dumping and chasing and the Caps haven't shown that they can put together a full game lately.
Prediction: 3-2 Sabres win.

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       The Matchups




Penalty Kill


Offensively the Caps are much better.  In their own zone the Sabres have an edge in the top two lines.

Buffalo is known for their physical, effective defense-first style of play.  Of course, so
did the Caps...

Biron is a little wizard in net while Kolzig is frustrated by his lack of support in front. 

The Sabres are anemic in general while the Caps are really missing Gonchar and Oates on the PP.

Washington is on again/off again while the Sabres don't seem even have an "off" position for the PK.

Buffalo didn't just lose a key game to an archrival in game 6 of an 8 game road trip late in the season.

The Caps are tired and disorganized while the Sabres are at least a cohesive unit out on the ice.
       Magic 8-Ball Says...
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30-32-10-1  71 points
9th, Eastern Conference
1-0-0-1 vs. Buffalo
2.74 Goals/Game (9th)
3.04 GAA  (27th)
19.2% PP (3rd)
81.4% PK  (26th)
12-20-5-0 on road
3.00 G/G 
3.00 GAA
3.00 G/G 
3.10 GAA

Top Scorers
P. Bondra - 35
J. Jagr - 30
S. Gonchar - 23
J. Jagr - 41
S. Gonchar - 32
P. Bondra - 26
J. Jagr - 71
P. Bondra - 61
S. Gonchar - 55
Olaf Kolzig 26-28-7, 2.90, .901
C. Billington 4-5-3, 3.04, .878
"Will the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow?"

"Without A Doubt"

The 8-ball says that the Caps get it together again and pick up a key win on enemy ice.  Expect another good night from Kono and Dahlen.
Caps win 4-1

Magic 8-Ball's Record: