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Capitals roll into new year, conclude homestand vs. Sabres

Dec 13, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA;  Washington Capitals forward Conor Sheary (73) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

After rolling through the month of December, the Washington Capitals will try to keep it going in January when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

The Capitals closed out 2022 with a 9-2 throttling of the Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Eve, finishing the month with an 11-2-2 record in 15 games.

“We’ve needed contributions. No matter who’s been in what position, we’ve needed guys to step up and play well 5-on-5 and on the power play,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “If we don’t have that then we wouldn’t be in the position after the month of December that we’re in.”

Conor Sheary is one of those players who have stepped up. His 11 goals are second on the team after Alex Ovechkin (26), while his 26 points rank fourth among all Capitals. Sheary finished December with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists), third-most for the month on the team behind Ovechkin (22) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (17).

Ovechkin was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month for December, capping it off with a hat trick against Montreal to give him 806 NHL goals.

While Washington is on a roll, the Capitals know they’ll have to have their best for their first meeting of the season against Buffalo in the finale of a three-game homestand.

“We’re playing a team that’s coming in here that’s winning games right now and was 7-1-1 before they lost this past game,” Laviolette said. “(They’re) capable of scoring a whole bunch of goals — in fact, No. 1 in the league. They’ve got a few players on their team that generate a ton of offense, so we’re going to have to be sharp with our game defensively.”

T.J. Oshie, who’s been sidelined since Dec. 17 with an upper-body injury, practiced in a full-contact jersey Monday and could possibly return against Buffalo.

The Sabres, meanwhile, close out a three-game road trip aiming to get back on track after their six-game winning streak was snapped Sunday in Ottawa.

“I think we’re going in there to try and make a statement,” Tage Thompson said of Tuesday’s tilt. “We don’t like the game we played (Sunday) and me in particular. I think next game is a big response game for all of us.”

Thompson was named the league’s third star for December after putting up 13 goals and 22 points in 11 games.

Linemate Jeff Skinner has had a remarkable season of his own thus far, with 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points in 32 games and putting him on pace for career-best totals across the board. Prior to being held off the scoresheet against Ottawa, Skinner had 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in a 10-game personal point streak and had 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games.

It’ll be the third game in four days for the Sabres and their fourth in the past six days after nine days without a game due to the severe winter storm that ravaged Buffalo, which forced two games leading up to and coming out of the NHL’s Christmas break to be postponed.

–Field Level Media