After spending one night watching from the press box, rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer will be back between the pipes today when the Capitals [22-16-6, 50 points] take on the Buffalo Sabres [12-26-5, 29 points] at Verizon Center [3 p.m., CSN].
Grubauer, 22, will be making his 11th start in 16 games. He is 6-2-3 this season with a 2.27 GAA and .931 save percentage.
Braden Holtby, who has played in just one of the Caps’ last seven games, will serve as Grubauer’s backup.
Oates said he’s not ready to start calling Grubauer the Caps’ No. 1 goalie, a title that belonged to Holtby before the rookie’s arrival in late November.
“He’s the guy I’m leaning on right now,” Oates said.
In their only other meeting this season on Dec. 29 in Buffalo, the Sabres beat the Capitals 2-1 in a shootout on the strength of Ryan Miller’s 50 saves. Miller is 11-18-1 with a 2.64 GAA and .927 save percentage.
“Hopefully, he doesn’t have that kind of game today,” Oates said. “We want to get more traffic if we can. In saying that, he also made some unbelievable saves in the game on point blank shots. I would say if we had the same kind of effort and shot selection we’ll be fine.”
After a 6-22-2 start that included the firing of coach Ron Rolston and general manager Darcy Regier, the Sabres have gone 6-4-3. On Thursday they hired Tim Hunter as their general manager and head coach Ted Nolan had his interim tag removed.
The Sabres have the worst record in the NHL, but have more wins in their last 13 games than the Caps [5-4-4].
“They beat us last time, so it doesn’t really mean anything,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We dictated the pace of that game and only came out of it with one point. That’s a point less on the table that we could really use right now. They play a very defensive style. They keep a lot of guys back in the neutral zone, so it looks like you have a lot of room but it’s not there.”
The Caps enter the game in second place in the ever-tightening Metro Division. They are tied in points with the third-place Flyers, one point ahead of the fourth-place New York Rangers, two ahead of Carolina and New Jersey and four ahead of Columbus.
Here are projected lineups for the Caps and Sabres:
Brooks Laich – Nicklas Backstrom – Troy Brouwer
Eric Fehr – Mikhail Grabovski – Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chmera – Marcus Johansson – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green
John Erskine – Connor Carrick
Philipp Grubauer [starter] – Braden Holtby
Matt Moulson – Tyler Ennis – Zemgus Girgensons
Matt D’Agostini - Cody Hodgson - Steve Ott
Linus Omark – Brian Flynn – Ville Leino
Marcus Foligno – Zenon Konopka – Matt Ellis
Christian Ehrhoff – Mark Pysyk
Brayden McNabb – Jamie McBain
Mike Weber – Alexander Sulzer
Ryan Miller [starter] - Jhonas Enroth