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Preview: Sabres close out 2019 against Lightning

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Tux and Pucks tradition continues tonight at KeyBank Center.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Game 41

Buffalo Sabres (17-16-6) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (20-13-4)

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Lightning Blog: Raw Charge

Know Your Opponent

Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: 20-13-4

Last 10: 6-3-1

Division Ranking: 4th in Atlantic Division

Conference Ranking: 9th in Eastern Conference

PP: T1st (29.3%)

PK: 18th (80.3%)

What to Watch

1. Let’s Get Physical

The Sabres have yet to beat the Lightning this season and this is their first and only match-up at KeyBank Center.

In addition to lacking scoring depth for what seems an eternity, Buffalo has also struggled to show any sense of grit. Dare I say the last gritty player was...Zack Kassian? The Bruins pushed the Sabres around like rag dolls the other night and lest we forget Vladimir Sobotka is currently recovering from surgery thanks to Tampa doing the same back in November. Rasmus Dahlin suffered a concussion after a dirty hit from the Bolts in a different game as well.

Cue the Dalton Smith signing this week. While it’s not confirmed he’s in the lineup tonight, he participated in practice and the trade is obviously intentionally timed. He’s not a permanent fix to the Sabres’ long list of problems, but it will be interesting to see if he’ll be on the ice to send a message to the visiting team.

2. Stamkos and Kucherov and Hedman...Oh My

Tampa Bay is on a bit of a hot streak and in that streak is star forward Steven Stamkos who earned his 800th point in a Montreal defeat just the other night. Though he leads his team in goals with 14, it is Nikita Kucherov who sits at the top with 40 points and a +5. He’s also the culprit for Sobotka’s knee injury.

Victor Hedman is another player to keep an eye on tonight. Recently named an NHL All Star, the top defenseman has tallied nine points in his last five games.

3. Go Bills

Listen, if the Bills were playing tonight, that’s what I would advise watching instead - a team that has truly rebuilt itself. But, unfortunately for fans of winning Buffalo teams, it’s Tuesday.

This week, there has been a lot of talk focused around closing out the decade. When Sabres fans look back and reflect on the last ten years, it certainly hasn’t been a time to remember - more like a time to forget. Like the rest of the City of Good Neighbors, I’m waiting on general manager Jason Botterill to make moves offensively to improve scoring. While I truly don’t know where to look for this void, it’s also not my job. It’s his. Let’s cross our fingers for a better decade ahead.

Projected Lineup

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Victor Olofsson - Jack Eichel - Kyle Okposo

Marcus Johansson - Johan Larsson - Sam Reinhart

Zemgus Girgensons - Curtis Lazar - Evan Rodrigues

Jimmy Vesey/Dalton Smith - Rasmus Asplund - Conor Sheary

Defense

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Dahlin - Brandon Montour

Marco Scandella - Henri Jokiharju

(Zach Bogosian - Colin Miller)

Starting Goaltender: Linus Ullmark (unconfirmed)

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos

Mathieu Joseph - Tyler Johnson - Yanni Gourde

Pat Maroon - Cedric Paquette - Mitchell Stephens

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - Kevin Shattenkirk

Starting Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevsky (unconfirmed)