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Sabres After Dark: Buffalo Heads to the Desert

The west coast road trip continues as Jeff Skinner is eligible to return from suspension against the Coyotes tonight

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Game 31

Buffalo Sabres (14-14-2) vs. Arizona Coyotes (10-14-4)

Puck Drop: 9:00 PM EST | Mullett Arena | Tempe, AZ

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WBEN 930 (Bills game will be on WGR 550)

SB Nation Coyotes Blog: Five for Howling

Know Your Opponent

Arizona Coyotes

Record: 10-14-4 | 24 PTS

Last Game: 5-4 win vs. Islanders

Division Ranking: 7th in Central Division

PP: 20.2% (23rd)

PK: 77.3% (20th)

What to Watch

1. Skinner’s Return

During last Friday’s overtime loss to the Penguins, Jeff Skinner received a three-game suspension for a nasty crosscheck to Jake Guentzel’s face in the third period. While it was great to see some grit and it was only a brief hiatus from playing, Skinner’s absence has been noticeable as lines have been jumbled around throughout the week. Casey Mittelstadt was moved to the first line with Alex Tuch and Tage Thompson against the Avalanche, but he still looked a bit like a lost puppy. Assuming Skinner returns to the ice tonight, it will be fun to see the top three forwards together again. So far this season, the Canadian winger has tallied 13 goals and 32 points.

Another player set to come back (most likely not tonight, but hopefully soon) is veteran winger Kyle Okposo. He has 11 points in 23 games this season, but is currently out with a lower body injury for an undetermined amount of time.

2. Power Play Looking Solid

Historically and for several years, Buffalo has really struggled on the powerplay. It is enlightening to report that this has actually been improving as of late. In the last eight games, the Sabres have scored 13 times on the powerplay, including Tuch’s wrister versus Colorado on Thursday. Buffalo is now second in the league with powerplay goals (at 29.6%).

The team also continues to lead the NHL in goals-for with an average of nearly four goals per game. It seems as though the franchise is finally moving in the right direction with their offensive efforts. Now, the focus may need to shift to defense (staying healthy, to start) and goaltending (though Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen played a solid game against Colorado, he needs to show consistency for the second half of the season).

3. Hot in Arizona: Keller

One Coyotes player to keep an eye on tonight is Clayton Keller. The American-born forward helped lead his team to victory against the Islanders last night with his two goals. According to head coach Andre Tourigny, he is getting better and more competitive every game. Seemingly on a hot streak, Keller has five goals in the last three games.

Projected Lineups

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Casey Mittelstadt* - Tage Thompson - Alex Tuch

JJ Peterka - Dylan Cozens - Jack Quinn

Rasmus Asplund - Tyson Jost - Victor Olofsson

Zemgus Girgensons - Peyton Krebs - Vinnie Hinostroza**

*Assuming Skinner returns, Mittelstadt will likely be bumped to the third or fourth line.

**Hinostroza was in Thursday for Okposo; this will likely be the case tonight.

Defense

Mattias Samuelsson - Rasmus Dahlin

Lawrence Pilut - Casey Fitzgerald

Kale Clague - Jeremy Davies*

*Owen Power did not play Thursday night following a lower body “tweak” in pregame warmups. Davies was called up on Friday from the Amerks; he has five points in 19 games with Rochester this season.

Other injuries on defense include Ilya Lyubushkin, Henri Jokiharju, and Jacob Bryson.

Goaltenders: Craig Anderson (expected), Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards

Matias Maccelli - Nick Bjugstad - Lawson Crouse

Liam O’Brien - Jack McBain - Christian Fischer

Clayton Keller - Travis Boyd - Nick Schmaltz

Nick Ritchie - Barrett Hayton

Defense

J.J. Moser - Josh Brown

Patrik Nemeth - Troy Stecher

Jakob Chychrun - Shayne Gostisbehere

Juuso Valimaki

Goaltenders: Karel Vejmelka (expected), Connor Ingram