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Preview: Sabres face white hot Lightning

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Can Buffalo grab (and hold) a lead against East’s stingiest team?

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Game 18

Buffalo Sabres (9-6-2) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (12-4-1)

Puck Drop: 7:30 PM | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY

TV: NBCSN

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Lightning Blog: Raw Charge

Know Your Opponent

Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: (12-4-1) | 25 PTS

Last 10: 7-3-0

Division Ranking: 1st in the Atlantic Division

Conference Ranking: 1st in the Eastern Conference

PP: 9th (24.2%)

PK: T-2nd (87.7%)

What to Watch

1.) Leading question

There is little question that it has been a lot of fun to see the Sabres come from behind for two consecutive wins. The refrain of, “This team loses those games last year” could be hung on an expansive banner that stretches between KeyBank Center and Harbor Center.

It’s true, of course - it’s been forever since Buffalo iced a professional men’s hockey team that had the ability to fall behind for two periods and come back to win. It certainly demonstrates the growth that fans have been hoping for for the better part of a decade.

At some point, though, the Sabres are going to have to get an early lead and keep that lead throughout 60-minute game.

2. Mind behind

The chart below demonstrates the importance of consistent goaltending. Buffalo’s tandem of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark has performed well. Also shown is the incredible performance that starter Andrei Vasilevskiy has put forth this season. While the Lightning starter has been lights-out, the Tampa Bay backup has been as close to awful as one could expect.

The stats really highlight how important goaltending can be in the league; especially in a season where scoring is up. Buffalo has consistently been able to put pucks in the net, but has also been consistently unable to stop them from going in. The Sabres need to prove to be mentally tough, and overcome Tampa’s perceived advantage in goal.

3. Shot through the heart

Shots. It all comes down to shots. Buffalo’s success can easily be tied to the games that it well overshot its opponent.

It is undoubtedly the strategy that Housley has been preaching to his team since his time in Buffalo commenced. It worked for the Nashville Predators when he assisted there, and it continues to be true throughout the league - shots indicate possession; possession drives wins.

The Sabres need to do everything they can to unleash an unholy number of shots on the Lightning. A positive shot differential could be the difference between a win and a loss to the East’s best team.

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Vladimir Sobotka - Evan Rodrigues - Jason Pominville

Conor Sheary - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo

Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Tage Thompson

Defense

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Nathan Beaulieu - Rasmus Dahlin

Marco Scandella - Zach Bogosian

Starting Goaltender: Carter Hutton

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

JT Miller- Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn- Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defense

Ryan McDonagh - Victor Hedman

Slater Koekkoek - Dan Girardi

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Starting Goaltender: Louis Domingue