Buffalo Sabres (9-12-1) vs. Detroit Red Wings (11-6-4)
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | Little Caesars Arena | Detroit MI
Radio: WGR 550
SB Nation Red Wings Blog: Winging It In Motown
Know Your Opponent
Detroit Red Wings
Last Game: 4-2 loss vs Maple Leafs
Division Ranking: 4th in Atlantic Division
PP: 22.4% (14th)
PK: 81.0% (11th)
What to Watch For
1. Motown Hat-Trick?
The other Buffalo team played twice in five days in Detroit, winning both during the week of Thanksgiving. Now the Sabres head across Lake Erie looking to make it a trio of wins. Of course, there are quite a few differences between the Bills and the Sabres, but at the same time there are definitely some similarities the hockey franchise can take inspiration from. The football team had hit a slump and the doubters were crawling out of the woodwork again when their game in Buffalo had to be relocated due to the monster snowstorm the Southern Tier got hit by.
The Sabres finally broke their eight-game losing skid with two big games, but then faced two of the better teams in the league and went down to defeats again. Tonight they play against a Detroit side that saw their own four-game winning run ended by the Maple Leafs on Monday night. Buffalo had already smacked Detroit 8-3 at the KeyBank Center end of last month with a Tage Thompson six-pointer special. If there was ever an opportunity to impose themselves in a game especially after the manner of the defeat to the Lightning on Monday night then this is it.
As Don Granato said after that disappointing loss when they let slip a two-goal lead late in the third period –
“You leave this game; that’s going to dominate everything else. And it was every single guy. It was all the way to the overtime goal.
“I do say all this, and our guys will learn from it. I know they will. I know they are [ticked] off at it. They’ve got to own it, and they will. I know we will. It happened, and you’ve got to make sure you gain the experience of it to the point where you don’t allow it to happen again.”
2. Rebuilding is the name of the game
Did Detroit jump ahead of Buffalo in the rebooting race? Both the Sabres and the Red Wings started off the season hot, and while neither was considered to be in playoff contention this season, Detroit has maintained their pace for the most part while Buffalo slipped into a tailspin with a demoralizing losing streak.
A quick look at the rosters though tells a slightly different story. Most of the bigger contributors to the stats sheet are older players for Detroit, while the Sabres are a younger side on average and a number of those players are still finding their way around the league. There are certainly some unheralded names in the Red Wings squad that are becoming key players for the franchise, and that is where they are getting ahead of the Sabres whose own roster is heavily studded by high draft picks and well-regarded prospects, but not all of them are quite making the impact that we would have hoped.
At the end of the day, the biggest difference between the two sides is that while the Sabres are scoring nearly half a goal more per game, they are also giving up half a goal more per game than the Red Wings. We could blame injuries all we like, but Detroit have over half a dozen players out injured right now.
Look at roster construction as well, especially on the defensive corps. Detroit’s current average age of their top seven dmen is 26.6, while Buffalo’s top eight dmen is 23.9. That lack of experience is coming back to bite GM Kevyn Adams right now.
3. That Penalty Kill Though
Couch it any way you like, but the Sabres penalty kill right now is abysmal, and a big reason for the poor defensive play overall. It’s not like Buffalo is committing more penalties than other teams and that the sheer volume is driving that stat – the Sabres are 18th in the league with 3.23 times short-handed per game. But right now they are killing penalties at a paltry 70.4% which is 28th in the league (21 goals given up on 71 opportunities), and pretty much every team around that number is a bottom-dweller, or close (the Kraken are a strange outlier).
The Sabres were at 76.4% last season (23rd), so it’s not like they’ve fallen off the cliff since 2021-22, more like there’s a systemic issue here that Granato and his coaching staff need to address with some urgency before it sinks what started off as a promising season.
Jeff Skinner – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch
Jack Quinn – Dylan Cozens – JJ Peterka
Rasmus Asplund – Casey Mittelstadt – Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons – Tyson Jost – Kyle Okposo
Mattias Samuelsson – Rasmus Dahlin
Owen Power – Henri Jokiharju
Casey Fitzgerald – Ilya Lyubushkin
Goaltenders: Craig Anderson, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (projected starter)
Scratches: Vinnie Hinostroza, Peyton Krebs, Kale Clague, Lawrence Pilut
Injuries: Eric Comrie, Jacob Bryson
Detroit Red Wings
Dominik Kubalik – Dylan Larkin – Lucas Raymond
Tyler Bertuzzi – Michael Rasmussen – David Perron
Adam Erne – Andrew Copp – Oskar Sundqvist
Jonatan Berggren – Joe Veleno – Pius Suter
Ben Chiarot – Moritz Seider
Olli Maatta – Filip Hronek
Jake Walman – Jordan Oesterle
Goaltenders: Ville Husso, Alex Nedeljkovic (projected starter)
Injuries: Robby Fabbri, Jakub Vrana, Filip Zadina, Matt Luff, Mark Pysysk, Elmer Soderblom, Gustav Lindstrom