WASHINGTON -- Want a key nuance to watch for tonight? Follow the faceoffs. The Sabres have been surprisingly good lately, even without Paul Gaustad. They've had the edge in faceoff victories in seven of their last eight games, and gone 6-0-2 in that stretch.
Their special teams are humming the last five games with the power play at 6 for 18 and the penalty kill at 9 for 10. In the last 15 games, Buffalo has killed 31 of 33 penalties. A lot of that obviously is goaltending but winning draws and getting control is key too.
"We've gone up against some tough faceoff teams and garnered the edge," coach Lindy Ruff said today. "It's a big part of the game. When you're not chasing the puck around all night, when you can start with it after a faceoff, it gives you an opportunity to get it down ice. It gives you an opportunity in the offensive zone for some offense.
"It's a part of the game sometimes that people overlook. I look at it that if you get the edge on the faceoff circle, you've got the edge of puck possession."
In Saturday's win over Minnesota, Derek Roy went 16-9 on draws -- winning a couple key ones down the stretch in the Buffalo zone -- and Cody Hodgson went 12-6 as the Sabres had a 36-26 edge. Roy is 87-69 the last eight games.
"[Gaustad] was a great faceoff guy. I had to step up my faceoffs," Roy said. "Late in games, those are huge. If you can ice the puck right away on a penalty kill, it gets a good 15-20 seconds."
For the season, the Sabres are 19th in the league on faceoffs -- but did the job against No. 4 Colorado and No. 6 Minnesota in recent games. The Capitals rank 17th.
Roy has improved to 50.6 percent for the season. The key to watch for Washington is Jeff Halpern, who is fourth at 58.3 percent.