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Behind Enemy Lines: Sabres Trying to Bounce Back

Two consecutive shootout losses (including one to Carolina) have seen Buffalo drop two crucial points in the Atlantic Division race.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Carolina Hurricanes last saw the Buffalo Sabres just five days ago, a few trends have changed or strengthened for the team in blue and yellow. As they prepare to host the Canes in tonight’s matchup, they still sit a point behind Carolina, but now have played the same amount of games due to the issues at PNC Arena resulting in a postponement of the Hurricanes/Red Wings game earlier this week.

Rasmus Ristolainen has taken over the overall points lead for the Sabres, scoring a goal and an assist over the last game against the Hurricanes and the following loss (also in the shootout) to the Florida Panthers. He now has 23 points, followed by Kyle Okposo with 22 of his own and Ryan O’Reilly with 18.

Evander Kane has continued his hot streak as of late, scoring game-tying goals against both Carolina and Florida this week. He now has nine points—six of which are goals—in his last 10 games.

The Sabres’ overall offense has dropped to 28th (2.19 goals/game) over their past two games, while their power play improved its percentage to 23.2%, but dropped from 3rd to 4th in the League.

On defense, Ristolainen continues to log the most minutes in all scenarios. Dmitry Kulikov and Josh Gorges also put up top-4 minutes, with Jake McCabe seeing plenty of ice time in his own right. Zach Bogosian, who will be playing his 3rd game back from an MCL injury, will see an increase in ice time and a more prominent role as he continues to heal.

Their team defense remained fairly stagnant, dropping their goals against/game by 3/10 of a point to 2.52. They continue to give up a heavy volume of shots, averaging 32.3 against per game. Meanwhile, the Sabres’ penalty kill unit improved just slightly to a 73.% kill rate, but remain ranked last in the league.

Anders Nilsson got the start in Carolina, where he lost in a shootout. His numbers remained much the same, with his save percentage jumping up a tenth of a point to .933% and his GAA dropped to 2.22. Robin Lehner started against the Panthers, but also fell victim to the shootout. His save percentage also rose by a tenth of a point to .921%, while his GAA rose two tenths to 2.47.

While the stats may not have changed much for Buffalo, their mindset all but certainly has. They have dropped two games from their very grasp in shootouts, and will see one of the two teams that beat them in upstate New York tonight. It’s a sure bet they will be looking to turn the tide on Carolina and perhaps exact some revenge for the point they left on the road at PNC Arena.

What to Watch For

  • As mentioned before, Evander Kane has been the Sabres hottest player. Look for him to be firing on all cylinders back on home ice.
  • Jack Eichel has also been playing consistently well upon his return from injury. He may not be near the top of their roster points-wise, but the Sabres are a far more dangerous team with #15 in the lineup.
  • Robin Lehner will likely start, solely based on the fact that he has taken the majority of the starts thus far and is the designated “starter,” for now at least. Also, Head Coach Dan Bylsma went with Nilsson against Carolina on Saturday. It’s probable that he throws a different look at the Hurricanes’ scorers.
  • Last game had a noticeable edge to it, especially toward the end of the game, but there were few penalties. Should the two teams lose their discipline in Buffalo tonight, the Canes’ PK vs. the Sabres’ PP will be a fascinating dynamic to keep an eye on.