Sabres Aim to Avoid a Shark Attack in San Jose
Buffalo will close out their California trip tonight, needing two points to stay in the playoff race.
Buffalo Sabres (27-22-4) vs. San Jose Sharks (17-28-11)
Puck Drop: 10:30 PM EST | SAP Center | San Jose, CA
Radio: WGR 550
SB Nation Sharks Blog: Fear The Fin
Know Your Opponent
San Jose Sharks
Last Game: 2-1 loss @ Golden Knights
Division Ranking: 7th in Pacific Division
PP: 19.7% (23rd)
PK: 83.8% (2nd)
What to Watch
1. Points at a Premium
With only 29 games left in the season, the Eastern Conference is ultra-competitive, with six teams vying for just two wild card spots. As it stands today, the Penguins, Islanders, Capitals, Panthers and Red Wings are all ahead of the Sabres, with all six teams within five points of each other.
Fortunately for Buffalo, they have at least a game in hand on all those opponents, so they essentially control their own destiny at this point. This makes a win against the Sharks, who have just 45 points (4th worst in the NHL), extremely important, as the Sabres need to collect as many points as they can get. After a disappointing showing against the Kings earlier in the week, Buffalo rebounded in Anaheim on Wednesday night, dominating for most of the game and putting up seven goals. While San Jose does have a few more seasoned scorers than the Ducks do, the Sabres should look to the recipe they cooked up last game and duplicate it.
Struggling tonight against the Sharks could prove costly to Buffalo’s playoff hopes as a string of huge games looms over the horizon including Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida and Washington. It’s time to see what this team is really made of...
After a tough showing in the first two games following the All-Star break, Don Granato shuffled up the lines a bit in hopes to get a few struggling players back on track. While it was just a one game sample, both the 3rd and 4th lines looked very good against Anaheim and seemed to be a nice fit, also allowing the top line of Skinner, Thompson and Tuch to stay together. Peyton Krebs has looked solid, progressing as the season’s gone on, and has goals in back-to-back games. He has deserved to get more opportunities, so it was good to see Granato move him up from the 4th line.
Another player who has really stood out (no matter how reluctant one is to admit it) has been Casey Mittelstadt, who since the All-Star break has been one of Buffalo’s best players. Mittelstadt has put up 2 goals and 3 assists in those three games, with both goals coming on highlight real plays. Casey really is a mystery to figure out for both the Sabres organization and fans alike, as his struggles seem to stand out more than not, however no one can argue he has extraordinary talent which he has demonstrated as of late.
3. Sharks Out of Water
While San Jose hasn’t been great during the entirety of this season, where they’ve really struggled to perform is at home, where they have a measly five wins at the SAP Center (by far the worst in the league). This pairs well for the Sabres as they are one of the better teams in the NHL while playing away from home, with a record of 16-8-2. As this is a game Buffalo has to have to stay in the playoff race, all signs point to them having the advantage, even while playing on the road.
The Sharks however are not a team that should be completely overlooked, as they do have a few players who have been phenomenal this season. Look no further than Erik Karlsson, who has 18 goals and 73 points, good for sixth in the entire league and by far the most for a defenseman (Dahlin is second with 58 points). Timo Meier, a popular player amongst trade talks as most of you know, has 31 goals and is always a threat to score when on the ice. The Sabres have to key in on those two and make sure they don’t have too much space and open ice, or they will get burned.
It would also be a bonus for Buffalo to continue to improve on their powerplay unit, however San Jose has the second best penalty kill in the league at 83.8%. So if you had any hopes for that ship to be righted, I wouldn’t expect much. 5v5 will most likely be where the Sabres have to get it done tonight.
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Alex Tuch
JJ Peterka - Dylan Cozens - Victor Olofsson
Casey Mittelstadt - Peyton Krebs - Jack Quinn
Zemgus Girgensons - Tyson Jost - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Henri Jokiharju
Mattias Samuelsson - Owen Power
Kale Clague - Ilya Lyubushkin
Goaltenders: Ukko Pekka Luukkonen (projected starter), Eric Comrie
Scratches: Rasmus Asplund, Jacob Bryson, Craig Anderson
San Jose Sharks
Timo Meier - Tomas Hertl - Kevin Labanc
Mikey Eyssimont - Logan Couture - Alexander Barabanov
Nick Bonino - Nico Sturm - Noah Gregor
Evgeny Svechnikov - Steven Lorentz - Oskar Lindblom
Scott Harrington - Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Matt Benning
Mario Ferraro - Jacob MacDonald
Goaltenders: Kaapo Kahkonen (projected starter), Aaron Dell
Scratches: James Riemer, Nick Cicek
Injuries: Jonah Gadjovich, Luke Kunin, Radim Simek