For the past week, the Washington Capitals have had their hands full with the Pacific Division. Washington heads back East after a 1-4-0 stretch against those particular Western inhabitants, but a 1-2-0 start to a five-game road trip won't get any easier when the Caps face the desperate Buffalo Sabres Sunday afternoon.
The Caps of old returned for one night Wednesday in a wild 7-6 win over the Anaheim Ducks. Alexander Semin earned his fourth hat trick of the season after having not scored since November 28. Despite their recent struggles, the Caps have seen their top wingers returning to form lately; Semin, Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble have combined for seven goals in the Caps' last four games. Semin's 21 goals are second on the team behind Ovechkin's 23, but when the former scores, the Caps always seem to respond; all 21 of Semin's goal have come in wins.
Washington will need a win Sunday as it sits in a logjam within the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps are in fifth place, five behind Southeast Division leader Tampa Bay, six behind Monday's opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and just six points ahead of eighth place Carolina. The Sabres are currently tied for ninth with the Atlanta Thrashers, four points behind the Hurricanes.
When the Caps left Verizon Center last Saturday after a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the fans in attendance sent them off with a chorus of boos. That's something the Sabres are familiar with; in a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues Friday at HSBC Arena, Sabres fans jeered their hometown team, whose 12 home wins are tied for third-fewest in the conference and the league. Buffalo has lost three straight at home as well. Yet, the Sabres are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and could be nipping at the Caps' heels with a victory Sunday,