Sabres Host Rangers as Levi Gets First Start
The Buffalo Sabres host the New York Rangers on Friday night.
Buffalo Sabres (35-31-7) vs. New York Rangers (44-21-10)
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY
TV: MSG, NHLN
Radio: WGR 550
Know Your Opponent
New York Rangers
Last Game: 2-1 loss @ Devils
Division Ranking: 3rd in Metropolitan Division
PP: 22.9% (9th)
PK: 80.5% (13th)
What to Watch
1. Levi Time
The day Sabres faithful has been waiting for is finally here, as the team announced top goaltending prospect Devon Levi would get the start Friday night against the Rangers. With Craig Anderson sidelined with an injury, Eric Comrie starting the last two, and UPL looking shaky as of late, the time seemed right for the 21-year-old Levi to make his first NHL appearance.
After waiting over a week for immigration paperwork to clear, Levi was finally allowed to practice with the team, and Granato clearly saw enough in that short amount of time to let the collegiate prodigy out of Northeastern take the net. During Thursday's press conference, Granato said that Levi had "...acclimated well enough that tomorrow is the right time" and that he had "no hesitation" giving him the start. Even as the team is still in the middle of a (possible but unlikely) playoff push, it's encouraging to see the coaching staff put their trust in Levi and give him an opportunity, especially as Buffalo's play in the defensive zone has often been shaky.
While the Rangers will be on the second game of a back-to-back (after a 2-1 loss to New Jersey on Thursday night), they will still be a tough test for Levi and the Sabres. Buffalo will have to bring their "A" game for a complete three periods in a must win game if they want to keep any hope at a wild card spot alive.
2. Lineup Shuffles
Two of Buffalo's most important players, Tage Thompson and Mattias Samuelsson, will both be game time decisions for tonight's matchup as they recover from injuries. While Thompson's seems to be more minor, forcing him to only miss one full game up to this point, he has been banged up throughout the season which has more than likely hindered his play at times. Samuelsson on the other hand, has missed a combined 25 games due to injury this season, and hasn't played in a game since the last time the Sabres faced off against the Rangers on March 11th.
While it is tough to predict if either will see the ice tonight, Samuelsson did take the pregame skate this morning, however Thompson did not. Granato stated that "there's a chance" one or both is in the lineup on Friday night, which would certainly bring a boost to a Sabres team that relies heavily them.
Jordan Greenway is also listed as questionable after missing the last four games with an injury suffered against Boston on March 19th. Out of the three, Greenway seems the most likely to play after skating in practice this week on a line with Tyson Jost and Victor Olofsson.
3. By the Numbers
While Tage Thompson's quest for 50 goals and 100 points may have to be put on hold another game, a few other Sabres have a chance to reach milestones tonight against the Rangers.
Thompson's usual linemates are both on that list as Jeff Skinner needs one more assist for 40 on the season, while Alex Tuch closes in on 70 total points, and needs just one more to reach that mark. Dylan Cozens looks to hit 30 goals in just his second full season in Buffalo, and could reach that with two goals tonight against New York.
On the other side, the Rangers roster is chock full with talent, and has had success in pretty much every facet of the game. Their special teams play on both the powerplay and penalty kill is easily in the top half of the league at 9th and 13th respectively, with top players on offense, defense and in net. While it appears elite goalie Igor Shesterkin will have the night off, backup Jaroslav Halak will take his place and may not be much easier of an opponent. Halak fills in with a .906 save percentage and 2.68 GAA (good for 18th in the NHL).
New York plays a fast and physical game, with loads of contribution from young talent that has taken them to the next level this season. Aside from the trade deadline acquisitions the Rangers added (Tarasenko, Kane, etc.), Buffalo's defense will have to be on top of NY's top point producers, Panarin and Zibanejad, for their sake, and Levi's.
Jeff Skinner - Casey Mittelstadt - Alex Tuch
JJ Peterka - Dylan Cozens - Jack Quinn
Jordan Greenway - Tyson Jost - Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons - Peyton Krebs - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Henri Jokiharju
Owen Power - Ilya Lyubushkin
Riley Stillman - Jacob Bryson
Goaltenders: Devon Levi (projected starter), Eric Comrie
Scratches: Vinnie Hinostroza, Kale Clague, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
Injuries: Tage Thompson, Mattias Samuelsson, Craig Anderson
New York Rangers
Artemi Panarin - Mika Zibanejad - Vladimir Tarasenko
Chris Kreider - Vincent Trocheck - Patrick Kane
Alexis Lafreniere - Filip Chytil - Kappo Kakko
Jimmy Vesey - Barclay Goodrow - Tyler Motte
Niko Mikkola - Adam Fox
K'Andre Miller - Jacob Trouba
Ben Harpur - Braden Schneider
Goaltenders: Jaroslav Halak (projected starter), Igor Shesterkin
Scratches: Jonny Brodzinski
Injuries: Ryan Lindgren