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Preview: Sabres have a chance to stay in hunt

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A regulation loss eliminates the team from the playoffs

Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Game 74

Buffalo Sabres (31-33-9) vs Montreal Canadiens (39-28-7)

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | Bell Centre | Montreal, QC, CA

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Canadiens Blog: Habs Eyes on the Prize

Know Your Opponent

Montreal Canadiens

Record: (39-28-7) | 85 PTS

Last 10: 5-5-2

Division Ranking: 4th in Atlantic Division

Conference Ranking: 8th in Eastern Conference

PP: 31st (12.3%)

PK: 17th (80.6%)

What to Watch

1. Even Ètienne

The Montreal power play has been indescribably inefficient - last in the league with a 12.3 percent rate of success. The Canadiens are surprisingly worse at home, converting just 11.7 percent of their chances. They’ve scored only 27 goals on the advantage this season, with 14 of those coming at home. It’s incredible because they are ninth in the league in home power play opportunities.

That’s concerning because that means that 88 percent of Montreal’s goals have come at even strength. Buffalo has struggled through that latter three-quarters of the season to keep the puck out of the net, and the Canadiens are third in the division in even strength goals.

Buffalo is last in the Atlantic. Even strength goals are not this team’s fortè. They are going to have to perform above their season average and take advantage on the power play when they can.

2. Middle Six

Much of the measured success the team has had this season can be traced to the top line. Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Sam Reinhart have provided the Sabres with more than their share of goals.

The good news is that things are picking up in the middle six. Casey Mittelstadt and Alex Nylander scored against the Maple Leafs. Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues added tallies the games before, with Nylander offering an assist.

It’s not mind-blowing production, but it’s and improvement. At this stage of the season, it’s easy to get caught up in the team’s failings, but recognizing areas of development - even to a minor degree - is important.

Nylander has impressed in his pair of games back, and he’s raising the play of his veteran linemates, as well. They’ll need their depth to step up once again to take a win on Saturday.

3. Shoot your shot

Throughout the season, the Sabres have had a noticeable improvement in shot rates. In Thursday’s matchup against Toronto, the Sabres were outshot an incredible 46 to 24 - nearly two-to-one. Buffalo needs to keep putting the puck on net - it’s one thing they’ve done consistently well all season. It’s important that they continue to do so.

The stress needs to come on putting the pucks ON NET. Missing high and wide ends up coming the other way too frequently, and that has burned the Sabres this year. Getting shots on, collecting rebounds, maintaining possession - these are fundamentals for the team to focus on in the last handful of games.

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Conor Sheary - Jack Eichel - Alex Nylander

Vladimir Sobotka - Casey Mittelstadt - Sam Reinhart

Jeff Skinner - Evan Rodrigues - Jason Pominville

Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Kyle Okposo

Defense

Zach Bogosian - Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Dahlin - Brandon Montour

Marco Scandella - Casey Nelson

Starting Goaltender (projected): Carter Hutton

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards

Tomas Tatar - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher

Artturi Lehkonen - Max Domi - Andrew Shaw

Jonathan Drouin - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Joel Armia

Paul Byron - Nate Thompson - Jordan Weal

Defense

Victor Mete - Shea Weber

Brett Kulak - Jeff Petry

Jordie Benn - Christian Folin

Starting Goaltender: Carey Price