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Sabres Look To Not Get Blown Away in the Windy City

Buffalo needs to beat a last-place Chicago team tonight in order to stay in the playoff race.

Chicago Blackhawks v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Game 43

Buffalo Sabres (21-19-2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (11-26-4)

Puck Drop: 8:30 PM EST | United Center | Chicago, Ill.

TV: MSG

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Blackhawks Blog: Second City Hockey

Know Your Opponent

Chicago Blackhawks

Record: (11-26-4)

Last Game: 8-5 loss vs. Kraken

Division Ranking: 8th in Central Division

PP: 20.5% (20th)

PK: 74.0% (25th)

What to Watch

1. Must Win

After an excellent December, where Buffalo was able to produce a record of 8-2-1, the Sabres have fallen flat on their face in the month January, going 3-5 so far, with seven games still remaining.

While the team is still above .500 and there’s plenty of time left in the season, losing the way they have over the past few games is just crushing for a group that is only a few points out of a playoff spot. Since last Monday (1/9), Buffalo has dropped 4 of 5 in a variety of fashions, including loses to teams they really needed to beat (Philly, Florida). Tonight's matchup against Chicago is big for the Sabres, as this is a team they absolutely have to beat if they want to continue making a playoff push. The Blackhawks are last in the NHL with 26 points, and only 11 wins over 41 games. They are also last in the league in goals scored (94), and give up the fifth most goals per game (3.71).

Buffalo needs to take advantage of a weak Chicago team tonight, as they have a tough road test on the schedule coming up next week, and every point matters. While struggling, the Blackhawks will still look to come out strong after letting up eight goals in their last game, so the Sabres have to be ready and motivated.

2. Scoring Slumps

One of the main reasons Buffalo has had a lack of success in the month of January has been a scoring slump, especially since the game against the Flyers. After putting up a whopping 51 goals over 11 games during the month of December, the Sabres hit a wall in January, scoring only 23 goals in 8 games so far. That’s a huge difference, especially when Buffalo relies heavily on goal production to win them games. Scoring just once combined against the Flyers and Panthers, two teams they’re competing with in the standings, is just unacceptable.

As the team overall has struggled to find the net, so has Buffalo’s top scorers. Thompson is the most obvious name that comes to mind, as he has no goals over the past five games, and just two assists. While most players will hit a slump some point in the season, TNT has looked almost uncomfortable out on the ice recently, and has yet to get his powerplay prowess back into rhythm. After a great month of December, Skinner has also struggled to find the net, with only one goal in the month of January (8 games). As those two are the Sabres top goal scorers (aside from Tuch), the team really can’t afford for them to go invisible for long stretches, especially as the kid line needs time to refocus and it’s hard to know what to expect from the 3rd and 4th lines.

As Buffalo’s powerplay is still 4th in the league and is dangerous, they just need to utilize it to get more consistent scoring. They have to stop trying to look for the perfect one timer as their only chance, and just get the puck to the net. With less hesitation and more movement in the zone, there’s no reason the Sabres can’t take advantage of a weak Chicago penalty kill.

3. Not the Same Blackhawks

After making the playoffs nine straight years between 2008 and 2017, while also winning the Stanley Cup three times, Chicago has only been to the playoffs once since then, where they lost in the first round in 2020 during the COVID postseason (where most teams were let in). Since that, the past three seasons have been records under .500, as the Blackhawks look to rebuild and progress younger players for the future.

Former stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who for so many years were dominant players, are starting to show signs of decline. Kane only has 8 goals and 28 points through the midway part of the season, while Toews has 12 goals and 24 points. It feels like this may very well be one of their final seasons in Chicago, as management is going in a development direction, especially after letting go of DeBrincat, Strome, Kubalik and Dach over the offseason.

Projected Lineups

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Alex Tuch

JJ Peterka - Dylan Cozens - Jack Quinn

Casey Mittelstadt - Tyson Jost - Victor Olofsson

Kyle Okposo - Peyton Krebs - Zemgus Girgensons

Defense

Mattias Samuelsson - Rasmus Dahlin

Owen Power - Henri Jokiharju

Jacob Bryson - Ilya Lyubushkin

Goaltenders: Eric Comrie (projected starter), Craig Anderson

Scratches: Vinnie Hinostroza, Rasmus Asplund, Kale Clague, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

Injuries:

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards

Tyler Johnson - Max Domi - Patrick Kane

Phillipp Kurashev - Jonathan Toews - Taylor Raddysh

Jason Dickinson - Sam Lafferty - Andreas Athanasiou

Colin Blackwell - Mackenzie Entwistle - Reese Johnson

Defense

Jake McCabe - Seth Jones

Jack Johnson - Connor Murphy

Isaak Phillips - Caleb Jones

Goaltenders: Petr Mrazek (projected starter), Jaxson Stauber

Scratches: Ian Mitchell, Boris Katchouk

Injuries: Alex Stalock, Jujhar Khaira, Jarred Tinordi