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Backing off the Blues

Sabres look to defend home ice against a streaking St Louis team

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Game 76

Buffalo Sabres (27-37-11) vs. St. Louis Blues (43-20-10)

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

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Blues Blog: St Louis Game Time

Know Your Opponent

St Louis Blues: 43-20-10 | 96 PTS

Division Ranking: 3rd in Central Division

PP: 3rd (25.8%)

PK: 6th (83.7%)

What to Watch

1. Red Hot Blues

The Sabres may be coming off a great win in Toronto, but the Blues have been playing lights out for a couple of weeks. Coming into tonight, they’ve won 6 in a row and 8 of 9 as they try and run down the Minnesota Wild for home ice advantage in their inevitable 1st round playoff matchup. Leading their team in points with 67 in 66 games is none other than Vladimir Tarasenko who had requested a trade in the offseason. He has three goals in his last three games and 8 points in his last five. The dynamic Russian forward is always a threat to score and must always be accounted for. Even with the last change, it will be tough to rely on a particular matchup to slow down Tarasenko because of the Blues three scoring line attack. It will have to be a team defensive effort to give the Sabres’ netminder a fighting chance at stopping the Blues offense.

2. A Match Made in Hockey Heaven

Tuesday night might have been Owen Power’s debut, in which he played very well, but it was also the debut of a very promising defensive pairing. With the new look defense, Granato decided to move Rasmus Dahlin to the right side and play him with Mattias Samuelsson. The results were immediately positive. They spent most of the night matched up against one of the best lines in hockey in Matthews-Marner-Bunting and Dahlin, who played the right side in the Swedish Hockey League, looked noticeably more engaged offensively. The two defensemen have complementary playstyles as Samuelsson is more of a stay-at-home defenseman and Dahlin likes to be engaged offensively. Samuelsson’s ability to shut down offensive possession and cause turnovers feeds directly into Dahlin’s breakout and transition ability. Look for them to continue to build chemistry as we could be looking at the perfect combination of defensive prowess and dynamic offense from the backend.

3. Enter at Your Own Risk

One look at the Blues’ special teams’ numbers can give you an idea of why they’re a top 10 NHL team. Their powerplay and penalty kill rank 3rd and 6th in the NHL respectively. They have two deadly powerplay units and Sabres fans remember how good Ryan O’Reilly is on the penalty kill. The simple solution is to not take penalties to limit the Blues’ opportunities. However, this is easier said then done. The Blues have a unique combination of dynamic offensive players, such as Tarasenko and Kyrou, that can force stick infraction penalties and power forwards like Saad and Schenn that can force opponents into taking physical penalties. Buffalo will need to be careful not to take penalties but can’t play timid against the Blues’ aggressive playstyle. Wish them luck walking that tightrope!

Projected Lineups

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Skinner - Thompson - Tuch

Asplund – Mittelstadt – Olofsson

Hinostroza - Cozens - Hayden

Girgensons - Krebs – Okposo

Defense

Bryson - Dahlin

Power - Jokiharju

Butcher - Fitzgerald

(*Mattias Samuelsson may or may not play. He is ‘hour-to-hour’ with a lower-body injury.)

Starter: Anderson

Blues

Forwards

Buchnevich – Thomas – Tarasenko

Saad – O’Reilly – Perron

Barbashev – Schenn – Kyrou

Toropchenko - Brown - Walker

Defense

Scandella – Parayko

Leddy – Faulk

Krug - Bortuzzo

Starter: Binnington