Sabres head out on the road to face Washington

More players from the NHL's COVID-19 Protocols list returned to practice
By WGR 550 SportsRadio

(WGR 550) - The Buffalo Sabres finally get back to playing on the road Thursday, as they face the Washington Capitals for the fifth time this season.

Buffalo may want to play on the road, as they’ve played pretty well in all four of their games away from Buffalo, going 2-1-1 against Washington and the Philadelphia Flyers. After those four road games, the Sabres came home and played six bad games in a row, and overall are 2-5-1 in Buffalo.

It’s been well documented that the Sabres are almost out of the playoff race after just one month of play, because their best players have not been their best players. The Sabres are 26th in the league in goal scoring, averaging 2.42 goals per-game. If they weren’t fifth in the league in power play rankings, they’d probably be with the worst scoring teams in the NHL.

Buffalo is 1-3 in their first four games this season against the Caps. Victor Olofsson has two goals and two assists for four points in those games, while Jack Eichel has four assists. Nick Backstrom has three goals and three assists for six points for Washington in the four games.

Linus Ullmark may get the call in goal for Buffalo. Ullmark is 3-2-2 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. He’s given up three goals in five of his seven starts this season.

In his last four starts, Carter Hutton has a 2.23 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

Rasmus Ristolainen isn’t on the trip for the Sabres, and likely will not join the team before they get home.

“We're going to take our time. You can see the writing on the wall that he needs more space to get his energy level up," said Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger following Thursday's morning skate. "Every one of us that had COVID has a different pathway back. His will still take some time.”

It sounds like the last two weeks have been very rough on Ristolainen.

Dylan Cozens, Curtis Lazar and Casey Mittelstadt skated with the team for the first time on Thursday after being on the NHL's COVID-19 Protocols list. Krueger said all three of them, as well as Brandon Montour have been cleared. Krueger would not reveal anything about the lineup for the game.

I would expect Lazar to play since Rasmus Asplund was assigned back to the taxi squad. Mittelstadt has also been placed on the taxi squad.

Lazar was taken by surprise when he learned of his positive COVID-19 test. He thought he was fine and not going to test positive, but then he got the news of the results days later.

“In all honesty, I thought I was in the clear from the time we were in quarantine to when I tested positive," Lazar said following Thursday's skate. "I think three, four, maybe five days that went by until I tested positive.

“I had symptoms for about four days that stemmed from fatigue, congestion, to the loss of taste and smell. I was able to get over it pretty seamlessly.”

Cozens said that he tested positive and was "pretty much" asymptomatic. He felt he was lucky that he didn't have to go through much during the time off to quarantine.

When Cozens was at training camp for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, he and Team Canada had to quarantine for over two weeks due to a minor COVID-19 outbreak.

“Since Nov. 25, I’ve quarantined for 35 days just in a hotel or in solitary. It’s been a lot for sure," Cozens said on Thursday.

Mittelstadt confirmed he, too, tested positive, but was asymptomatic. He said the worst he got was a stuffy nose.

Washington is coming in off a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but before that, the Capitals had lost four in a row. That helped the Islanders go past them in the East Division. New York is third with a .633 points percentage, while Washington is fourth at .607.

Vitek Vanecek hasn’t put up great numbers this year, but the rookie goaltender has stymied the Sabres. Vanecek is 2-0-1 against Buffalo with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. Against the rest of the league, he’s 4-3-1 with a 3.38 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.

Backstrom hasn’t only just lit up the Sabres this season. He has 19 points in 14 games, which ranks him 10th in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin has five goals and eight assists for 13 points in 10 games.

Join Schopp and the Bulldog for pregame coverage on WGR starting at 6 p.m. EST, when they’ll be joined by Krueger, Lazar and Cozens.

***Photo: Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres)