Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY
Radio: WGR 550
SB Nation Blue Jackets Blog: The Cannon
Know Your Opponent
Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: (21-22-1) | 43 PTS
Division Ranking: 5th in Metropolitan Division
Last Game: 5-4 win vs. Capitals
PP: 16.2% (26th)
PK: 79.8% (17th)
What To Watch
1. The home stretch begins
After having a few games postponed due to COVID back in December, and the All-Star break taking place last week, Buffalo will have to be mentally and physically prepared to play 37 games in less than three months. After a long road stretch before the All-Star break began, which saw the Sabres go 1-3, they will now return to Buffalo to play four of the next five games at home, starting with the Blue Jackets. While it is unlikely that the Sabres will make the playoffs at this point, it is crucial that they regain chemistry after over a week absence, or they could be in for a long second half of the season.
2. All-Star Dahls
While Buffalo’s season up to this point has had its ups and downs, one positive to look at is the performance of Rasmus Dahlin. After being a highly touted first overall selection by the Sabres back in 2018, and despite many flashy plays in the NHL so far, it felt like there were far more negative moments in Rasmus’s career up until this season.
But this season feels different.
Not only does Dahlin seem to be playing with even more confidence, he is also tied for second on the team with 28 points, and easily leads all skaters with an average of 23:46 TOI. To top it all off, he was selected to his first All-Star game, where he registered a goal and an assist and lead the Atlantic Division in TOI. If Dahlin can use the confidence he’s gained and the respect he’s earned from other players in the league to his advantage, he will likely have a very productive back end of the season, starting on Thursday night.
3. Youth Movement
Similarly to Buffalo, Columbus has also struggled more than they haven’t this season, as they dropped below .500 before the All-Star Break. While times have been tough lately for the two teams, there’s hope on the horizon with both teams having a pool of young impactful prospects.
The Blue Jackets are the second youngest team in the NHL (Buffalo is seventh), and have gotten decent contributions from rookies Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov who have played in the majority of their games this season. Trey Fix-Wolansky was called up to play in his first NHL game Tuesday against the Capitals and scored his first NHL goal, so he should be in the lineup as well.
It should be a good test to see how two youthful teams fair against each other as an example of what’s to come.
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Alex Tuch
Anders Bjork - Dylan Cozens - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Asplund - Peyton Krebs - Victor Olofsson
Mark Jankowski - Cody Eakin - John Hayden
Rasmus Dahlin - Henri Jokiharju
Robert Hagg - Mark Pysyk
Mattias Samuelsson - Casey Fitzgerald
Starting Goaltender: Dustin Tokarski
Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine - Boone Jenner - Gustav Nyquist
Jakub Voracek - Cole Sillinger - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Yegor Chinakhov - Sean Kuraly - Max Domi
Trey Fix-Wolansky - Jack Roslovic - Brendan Gaunce
Zach Werenski - Andrew Peeke
Vlad Gavrikov - Adam Boqvist
Gavin Bayreuther - Dean Kukan
Starting Goaltender: Elvis Merzlikins (expected)