Game Preview: Buffalo Sabres @ Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres have much in common. For starters, many didn't prognosticate either of them to be in the thick of the playoff race but they are. Second, there isn't one particular player who's grabbing the bull by the horns offensively as both clubs have an attack that's spread out comfortably. And lastly, their biggest weapon is the man wearing the mask and guarding the goal.

Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov are performing phenomenally and while the Sabres netminder holds a slight advantage over the Russian in save percentage and goals against average, they are equally matched in shutouts and a win today for Bryzgalov would put them in a tie there as well. Easier said than done.

Ten additional notes on the game below.

  • Going 7-0-3 currently, Buffalo's last regulation defeat was on Dec.23 in Washington. They've outscored their opponents 31-25 in those ten games so it hasn't been a case of sitting back in relaxation watching blow-out victories. A lot of one goal finishes which is what the Sabres have excelled in.
  • Head coach Dave Tippett enjoys juggling his lines for the sake of offensive results. Sound like anyone we know? Shane Doan was matched with Daniel Winnik and Vernon Fiddler in a 6-4 win over the Minnesota Wild on the weekend. The trio amassed six points making Tippett's tactics look clever.
  • Buffalo's goaltender for today's match is awaiting confirmation. If Patrick Lalime doesn't go in, then he definitely will tomorrow in Anaheim and our fingers will be crossed for his 200th career win.
  • Petr Prucha scored 52 times in his first two-year stint with the New York Rangers. Afterwards, he pulled in just 13 goals in two seasons but has gotten more confidence in Phoenix and may resurface in the 20-goal class.
  • Another component these teams have is great health. Neither is plagued by injuries and the only player missing is defenseman Kurt Sauer for Phoenix. I'm sure we'll dig up some more resemblances before this article is over.
  • Three of the four periods (the fourth being overtime) in Long Island were controlled mostly by the Sabres who had more shots. The big fiasco came in the second period when New York outshot Buffalo 21-6. One frame seems to always have a rotten smell to it for Lindy Ruff's players.
  • Ed Jovanovski returned from a two-game suspension to rack up four assists Saturday. Tippett illustrated it best by mentioning your team loves him on the ice and the other team hates him on the ice. Very true.
  • On the first line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek is still receiving ample odds of beginning a scoring streak. Three points in four contests is a delightful sign and he scored the game-winner in the previous match-up with the Coyotes at HSBC Arena way back in October.
  • Chris Butler's game against the Islanders almost makes you dismiss his awful showing in Atlanta, almost. With an assist, a plus-one rating, two takeaways, two blocked shots and zero giveaways, Butler receives a thumbs up.
  • Buffalo is 7-0-1 against the Western Conference and Phoenix is 6-4-1 versus the Eastern Conference.

The remaining five matches on the road trip will be against Western opposition putting Buffalo's terrific record to the challenge. After Phoenix, the Sabres will go through Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and finish off in Vancouver. Those are some tough buildings to play in but the team is ready for the test. 

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