Wins and goals have been frustratingly scarce for the Buffalo Sabres on home ice over the past month, two qualities that the Washington Capitals continue to reap in abundance.
The NHL's current front-runners attempt to pin a seventh straight home loss on the Sabres while vying for a sixth consecutive win when the teams meet Saturday night.
Buffalo (17-22-4) was dealt a fifth straight defeat in regulation at First Niagara Center with Friday's 4-1 loss to Boston. It's been outscored 17-6 while producing just two even-strength goals over that stretch, which began with a 2-0 setback to the Capitals on Dec. 28.
Avoiding a first seven-game home skid since losing eight straight from Jan. 9-Feb. 5, 2014, figures to be a daunting task. Washington (33-7-3) has outscored opponents 22-8 over its streak and has gone 14-1-1 since Dec. 12 to become only the fifth team in league history to win at least 33 of its first 43 games.
The Capitals kept rolling with Thursday's 4-1 home win over Vancouver that followed a 7-1 rout of visiting Ottawa on Sunday. Alex Ovechkin had a three-game goal streak snapped by the Canucks, but Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded two goals and an assist and Braden Holtby made 29 saves for his league-high 28th victory.
"They are a good team," Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins said afterward. "They're deep all the way through. I thought we were playing pretty good in the first period, but it was still hard to generate against them."
Buffalo knows that feeling all too well, having lost both ends of a home-and-home set to the Capitals in late December. Washington completed the sweep with a 5-2 win on Dec. 30 behind Ovechkin's two goals.
The Sabres could get a break if Holtby is rested for a possible start against the New York Rangers on Sunday. The All-Star goaltender has stopped 56 of 58 shots in Washington's two wins over Buffalo and hasn't lost in regulation since Nov. 10 at Detroit. He's compiled a 20-0-2 record and 1.85 goals-against average since to move within one of Jose Theodore's club-record point streak set in 2010.
Backup Philipp Grubauer has held his own when called upon, as he did with a 32-save effort against Ottawa that lowered his GAA to 2.23 in nine appearances (eight starts).
Buffalo finally got its top goaltender back on Friday, as Robin Lehner made his first appearance since suffering a high-ankle sprain in the Oct. 8 opener against Ottawa. He finished with 27 saves but allowed three third-period goals.
The Sabres registered 34 shots but their usually solid power-play came up empty in four chances, three of which came within a 7-minute span in the second period.
''That's what makes or breaks games,'' captain Brian Gionta said. ''Unfortunately, when you don't get a goal or get very good momentum off it, it's going to hurt you. And that's what happened.''
The unit continues to be without one of its key members with Tyler Ennis still out with an upper-body injury. Zemgus Girgensons will join him on the sidelines after exiting Friday's game with an upper-body issue.
With Lehner unlikely to play back-to-back nights, Chad Johnson is expected to start on Saturday. Johnson had 38 saves in the Dec. 30 meeting with Washington and stopped 42 of 44 shots in a 3-1 loss at Chicago on Jan. 8, his third consecutive defeat.
The Capitals have won four straight in the series and are 8 of 13 on the power play in the last six matchups.