The annual one and only meeting of the season between the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers takes place tonight at HSBC Arena. This is a contest that Buffalo should be looking forward to for a number of reasons. First, they have won each and every battle with the Oilers since the lock-out including a 10-2 embarrassment last year.
Second, Edmonton will be without key players: Ales Hemsky; the best overall forward in terms of pure skill, Shawn Horcoff and Sheldon Souray who makes the powerplay scarier with his one-timer. Third, while the Sabres have had a couple of days rest to examine their two losses over the weekend, the Oilers are in the midst of a five-game road trip that saw them play into overtime against the Ottawa Senators yesterday.
Finally, the group should be motivated after coming out flat and getting outscored 9-4 by Philadelphia and Boston combined. But even with this Edmonton squad missing people, the Sabres can't take them lightly. Below are the keys for each team to find a victory this evening.
- Score the first goal. Each regulation loss Buffalo has suffered was the result of allowing that opening goal and before you knew it, they went on to allow another on every occasion and a 2-0 deficit has been their path to a disappointment.
- Don't underestimate Pat Quinn's troops. Although a lot of firepower isn't available, Edmonton has young players who are hungry and looking to make their mark. And Denis Grebeshkov and Lubomir Visnovsky can jump into the play and control a powerplay adequately.
- Make something happen in the special teams department. Boston picked them apart in both penalty killing and man-advantage opportunities on Saturday. Get some simple shots towards the goal instead of trying fancy plays.
- Take full advantage of this situation with the schedule, previous success in the overall series and the injuries. Edmonton is 2-5-1 on the road whereas Buffalo is 5-2-1 at home.
- Give Ryan Miller an easy night. He's won numerous games for us with his stellar goaltending and it's time we returned the favor. Edmonton averages 26.1 shots per game (28th in the league) compared to Buffalo's 34.9 (best in the league).
- Like Buffalo, scoring first is crucial for Edmonton and together, these two clubs are 14-2-3 when they grab an early lead. When allowing the opening goal, they combine for a 3-10 record.
- Lure the opponent into taking penalties as the Oiler powerplay has operated at 23.2 per cent. Buffalo's penalty kill is in the bottom half of the league so put the pressure on them as often as possible.
- Throw the puck at Miller frequently because 20 to 25 shots aren't going to get the job done with a goaltender whose save percentage is .936 and goals against average reads 1.89. I know Edmonton had a tendency to score on what little chances they received in October but that won't work here.
- Play with energy and use last year's 10-2 thrashing as motivation. Back-to-back battles are never easy but young guys like Ryan Potulny and Liam Reddox are eager to remain in the line-up doing so by any means necessary.
- Get Dustin Penner going. He's playing the best hockey of his career and oozing confidence under the new head coach. Provide him with ice time that he's earned.
All signs point to a Buffalo victory tonight if history is any indication. As nice as statistics and trends are, it'll still be up to the team to deliver two points.