MINNESOTA WILD AT BUFFALO SABRES
6:00PM CST - KeyBank Center - Buffalo, New York
TV: Fox Sports North
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Streaming: Fox Sports App, NHL.tv
After stumbling out of the extended break against the Dallas Stars, the Minnesota Wild patched together an admirable showing against the Chicago Blackhawks over the weekend, earning a point in an overtime loss. Victor Rask scored just his second goal of the season and first in a Wild sweater to send the game to overtime with about 3 minutes remaining in regulation. Not bad timing against a Hawks team that has of recent history been an iron spike in the Wild’s skate.
Had it not been for Ryan Suter’s moonshot over the boards with 19 seconds left in regulation, giving the Hawks a power play leading up to overtime, the Wild might have earned that valuable second point, inching them closer to the Stars for third in the division, and perhaps more importantly adding some additional cushion between the Wild in the first wildcard spot, and the groundswell of teams fighting for the 8th seed. 6 teams are hovering just below the Wild in the Western Conference, within 5 points.
The Wild seem to be holding serve though, with points in 5 of their last 7 games including a 3-game winning streak. Jason Zucker scored his first goal in 7 games against the Hawks, his 14th on the season. Eric Staal was held off the score sheet against Chicago, but has 7 points in his last 5 games including 3 goals. The Wild made some moves leading into the week of games too, calling up Luke Kunin and Kyle Rau while relegating Nate Prosser and J.T. Brown to the Iowa Wild in an effort to bring some more speed to the lineup.
Devan Dubnyk also enjoyed a solid month of January where he tied for the league lead with 7 wins in 9 starts, posting a GAA of 2.42 along side a .916 Sv%. While these are by no means high-water marks for the Wild's #1 between the pipes, it does suggest that the offense is picking up when Dubs might be having an off night.
There’s no room to stumble here, and the Wild will try to grow on their game against the Hawks by taking this show on the road for 3 of the next 4 games in trip that is bound to throw your circadian rhythm out of whack. First up on the 4-game stretch the Wild travel to Buffalo for a game against the Sabres. Then your Wild skip back home for a quick tilt against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday before buzzing back out east to finish up with back-to-backs against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders this Saturday and Sunday. Just one of those goofy quirks in the schedule.
As mentioned, the Wild light this candle tonight against one of former GM Chuck Fletcher’s favorite trading partners, the Buffalo Sabres. There’s been quite a bit of back and forth between these two teams, so the storylines are aplenty. In the teams only other meeting this season, the Wild let a 2-goal lead slip away, losing 3-2 off a Jason Pominville shot late in the game at the X back in mid-November.
The Sabres have fallen off quite a bit from where they were when these two teams last played. Then, the Sabres were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak that shot them up to the top of the NHL standings in November. Jeff Skinner was second in the NHL in goals with 19, Jack Eichel was fourth in the NHL with 25 assists and all signs were pointing to a very dangerous Sabres team.
Since the Sabres final win in their 10-game streak on November 27th, they have won just 8 of 26 games, tied for worst in the NHL. After going 17-6-2 for 36 points in their opening 25-games of the season, the Sabres have earned just 20 points with a record of 8-14-4 since. They are now 3 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wildcard spot in the east, and are looking for something to jolt them back into contention before it’s too late.
Sabres head coach and one of us Phil Housley has quite literally blown up his lines over the past day. Literally. All of them. The Sabres also most recently fell victim to the Blackhawks as they were schelacked to the tune of 7-3. They threw 43 shots at Cam Ward, Skinner fired 10 of those and they still were no match for the Hawks on this night. Time to throw some "stuff" at the wall, see what sticks.
Major changes to #Sabres lines at today’s practice:— Jason Wolf (@JasonWolf) February 4, 2019
The once staple of the Sabres, a top line of Skinner, Eichel, and Sam Reinhart has been broken apart across 3 lines now as Housley is trying to find a little cohesion in his lineup. Although this team has seemingly fallen apart, since their streak came to an end with a loss on November 29th, the Sabres (69 goals) have scored 2 more goals than the Wild (67 goals) since that date, and in 2 less games nonetheless.
The shake up was not just limited to the forwards however, as even the blueline has seen some significant movement
#Sabres defensive pairings:— Jason Wolf (@JasonWolf) February 4, 2019
And the power play unit? Don’t think you’re safe either...
#Sabres PP 1: Eichel-Dahlin at points.... Skinner-Mittelstadt-Reinhart up front— Jason Wolf (@JasonWolf) February 4, 2019
PP 2: Ristolainen-Rodrigues at points ... Sheary-Okposo-Thompson up front
Will any of this hold true as the teams take to the ice tonight? Who knows! What we can surmise is that this team is searching for answers, and you’re not going to want to give them any reason to think they’ve found them, especially in their house.
Despite their struggles, this is an extremely dangerous team. Eichel leads the way with 54 points in 48 games this season, 37 of those being helpers. Skinner’s 31 goals this season is part of a four-way tie for second in the NHL. Reinhart and Jason Pominville round out their double-digit goal scorers with 12 and 11 goals respectively.
Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin have been somewhat productive on the blue line for the Sabre’s and lead the team defense with a combined 60 points and it will be something for the Wild to pay attention to tonight with those two possibly being paired together. Of course Wild fans still remember Marco Scandella and what he is capable of. Watch for him to rip a few attempts from the blue line tonight.
The Sabres are trying to right the ship, and with the Wild’s knack for playing up or down to their competition it’s anyone’s game to lose. Both teams will need to minimize mistakes, as both teams have the means to make you pay for it.
Johan Larsson is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury, may not suit up tonight. Matt Hunwick is also listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Here is your sour reminder that Matt Dumba is still injured. Pontus Aberg was placed on IR as well and will miss Tuesday and Thursday’s games. Earliest he'll be available will be Sunday against the Islanders.
Be sure to stop by and say hello to our friends over at Die By The Blade, your first stop for all the latest Sabres news.