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Preview: Sabres seek to strike Lightning

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Line shakeups and random probabilites.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Game 60

Buffalo Sabres (28-24-7) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (46-11-4)

Puck Drop: 7:30 PM EST | Amalie Arena | Tampa, FL

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Lightning Blog: Raw Charge

Know Your Opponent

Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: (46-11-4) | 96 PTS

Last 10: 8-0-2

Division Ranking: 1st in Atlantic Division

Conference Ranking: 1st in Eastern Conference

PP: 1st (30.2%)

PK: 2nd (85.1%)

What to Watch

Something to tie your anchor to

It’s been a rough month for the Buffalo Sabres. It’s been a rough few months for the team. After a chunk of games against lesser opponents, the Sabres will face some of their toughest challenges, starting with a matchup against the league’s best team.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are at the top of the league in most categories. They are second in the league on the penalty kill, and at home, have allowed goals less than 12 percent of the time.

The good news? Buffalo has allowed fewer power play goals against. Despite the fact that the team has a worse penalty kill percentage by a small margin, their 28 goals against on the kill is third in the league and bests Tampa by one.

The Lightning’s power play is indeed mighty, capitalizing on nearly one out of every three changes. But Buffalo one of the few teams that may be able to shut it down.

Playing odds

Buffalo has won two of their last six, and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Since the team last played the Lighting on January 12, they’ve essentially won one out of every three games. After dropping two straight matches, it’s time for the somewhat-predictable bounceback.

It won’t be easy. The Sabres will likely face starter Andrei Vasilevskiy, who did not play on February 19. The young netminder has a career high .930 save percentage, a career low 2.28 goals against average, and an incredible 25.65 goals saved above average. Hopefully reuniting the BU teammates in Evan Rodriguez and Jack Eichel will help to spark the team.

At the time of writing, superstar defender Victor Hedman is day-to-day with an unspecified lower body injury. This takes a little edge off of the Lightning’s offense and makes it a little easier for Buffalo in the offensive zone. Hopefully, they can catch Vasilevskiy on an off-night, and take advantage of Hedman’s absence.

Be true

The standings demonstrate a lack of success from the team in one sense, but there have been improvements. The team has jumped 11 spots in shots per game to round out the top 10 - even holding a slight edge on the Lightning. The team’s biggest issue is that they are in the bottom-third of the league in goals-for per game, with only 2.81. It’s nearly half a goal per game better than last season, but scoring in general for the league is up that same margin.

If the team can find better shot selection and bury more of their top-10 shot rate, it will be much easier to find ways to win. It would be nice to give these goaltenders some scoring support after leaving them out to dry for the better part of 40 games.

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Evan Rodriguez

Conor Sheary - Casey Mittelstadt - Sam Reinhart

Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Jason Pominville

CJ Smith - Vladimir Sabotka - Tage Thompson

Defense

Jake McCabe- Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Dahlin - Zach Bogosian

Nathan Beaulieu - Casey Nelson

Marco Scandella - Jake McCabe

Lawrence Pilut - Matt Hunwick

Starting Goaltender: Carter Hutton (unconfirmed)

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - JT Miller

Yanni Gourde - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Adam Erne

Danick Martel - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defense

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - Dan Girardi

Brayden Coburn - Anton Stralman

Starting Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy