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Sabres need to bounce back against Canadiens

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After an inauspicious start following the All-Star break, Buffalo needs to find two points against their division rivals

Montreal Canadiens v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images

Game 51

Buffalo Sabres (22-21-7) vs. Montreal Canadiens (22-22-7)

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

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Canadiens Blog: Habs Eyes on the Prize

Know Your Opponent

Montreal Canadiens

Record: 22-22-7 (51 points)

Last 10: 4-5-1

Division Ranking: 6th in the Atlantic Division

Conference Ranking: 12th in the Eastern Conference

PP: 13th (20.1%)

PK: 22nd (78.7%)

What To Watch

1. Last Chance to Salvage Season

The Sabres blew their chance to come out of the All-Star break with a bang on Tuesday, in a 5-2 loss to the lowly Ottawa Senators on home ice. If Buffalo wants to salvage any slim chance at a postseason birth, hey need to get hot in the month of February.

Fan patience is wearing thin (even thinner than before), and as one of just two games on television this past Tuesday, their ire was on display for the rest of the league to see. The organization should be feeling the heat after all but botching the 50th anniversary celebration, while also putting out another mediocre on-ice product. A strong push into March might buy back some good will from a passionate, irate fan base.

2. Hutton’s Cage

It’s no secret that Carter Hutton has struggled mightily in relief of Linus Ullmark this season. Metrically, he ranks in the bottom-third of backups in the NHL, and from a base stats standpoint, his save-percentage of .892 is the lowest of his eight-year career.

Now that Ullmark will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks with a lower-body injury, the Sabres need the veteran netminder to find his game in short order. If he can’t, Jonas Johansson (who was recently called up from the Rochester Amerks) might get his chance to show he has what it takes to backup Ullmark in 2020-21. What that would mean for Hutton remains to be seen, but the pressure is on.

3. Return of the Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart Line?

On Tuesday, Ralph Krueger experimented with Phil Housley’s go-to line from last season, icing his three biggest offensive threats on the same unit. Obviously, the Sabres lack scoring depth, but consolidating all of your offensive talent at the top worked out very poorly for Housley. Buffalo is a better defensive team this year, so perhaps if they can play a really boring brand of defensive hockey, they can get away with only one line producing offense.

Still, with a shaky Hutton between the pipes, that plan seems destined for failure. Zemgus Girgensons skated with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart at practice yesterday, so we’ll see if that change at all in-game.

Projected Lineup

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Zemgus GirgensonsJack EichelSam Reinhart

Jeff SkinnerMarcus JohanssonMichael Frolik

Jimmy VeseyCurtis LazarKyle Okposo

Conor ShearyJohan LarssonEvan Rodrigues

Defense

Lawrence PilutZach Bogosian

Rasmus DahlinColin Miller

Jake McCabeHenri Jokiharju

Brandon MontourRasmus Ristolainen (maintenance day at practice)

Starting Goaltender: Carter Hutton

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards

Tomas TatarPhillip DanaultIlya Kovalchuk

Max DomiNick SuzukiJoel Armia

Ryan PoehlingJesperi KotkaniemiArtturi Lehkonen

Nick CousinsNate ThompsonDale Weise

Defense

Ben ChiarotShea Weber

Marco ScandellaJeff Petry

Victor MeteBrett Kulak

Starting Goaltender: Carey Price (projected)