Sabres hit the road

⏰ 6 p.m.   ? MSG   ? WGR550

After a demoralizing loss to the New York Rangers on Friday, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves on the road for the first time in eight games, with a visit to Newark, New Jersey, and the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are coming off of a tremendous come-back win against Minnesota earlier in the week, and have some momentum on their side, meanwhile the Sabres, now five points back of the last Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, try to rebound from the 6-2 drubbing suffered at the hands of the Rangers.

Season series:

This is the second of three meeting between these two teams, with the Sabres picking up a decisive victory on home-ice on January 8, by a score of 5-1. Five different Sabres had goals in that contest, including CJ Smith’s first career NHL marker. Meanwhile, Carter Hutton had a relatively quiet night, only facing 21 shots and stopping 20 of them. This is the first time the Sabres will visit the Prudential Center this season, but it won’t be the last, as they’ll meet in New Jersey again on March 25. 

Buffalo notes: 

Over the last five contests, all on home ice, the Sabres have alternated wins and losses. They’ve swung from excellent, whole-team defensive efforts, such as the ones against Winnipeg and the Islanders, to disappointments, such as the effort against the Rangers and Blackhawks in the home-stand. They finished the extended stay at home with a record of 3-3-1, but failed to gain any real ground in the hunt for the postseason. Defenseman Zach Bogosian was quite direct on how he felt the Sabres’ consistency was lacking this season: “We have to string some games together here. It’s coming down to the homestretch. Consistency is something we’ve been up and down with this year. We definitely have to find that if we’re going to give ourselves a chance.”

On the good news front for the Sabres, center Casey Mittelstadt looks to return from a 2-game absence due to a lower-body injury. Evan Rodrigues will presumably return to the bottom-six of the forward grouping with Mittelstadt’s return to his second-line center duties, though he could see time on the second line as a winger, given his recent successful showings.

From a scoring standpoint, a few players look to continue hot streaks for the Blue and Gold. Center Jack Eichel has 12 points in his last 11 games, with 3 goals and 9 assists, meanwhile a great benefactor from those helpers, Jeff Skinner is looking to extend his three-game point streak, which has seen him amass eight points, with five of them goals.

Opponent notes: 

The Devils, who currently sit in the last position in the Metropolitan Division, and second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, are coming off of a thrilling 5-4, come-from-behind overtime victory in Minnesota look to win two consecutive games for the first time since mid-January. New Jersey was down 4-1 in the second period, when starter Keith Kinkaid was pulled in favor of Cory Schneider. Schneider had not won a regular season game since December 27, 2017, which was a regulation losing streak of 21 games for the Devils net-minder. The Devils are returning home from a short three-game Western Conference swing that saw them lose handily to the St. Louis Blues 8-3, as well as a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks before the aforementioned come-back win. Schneider seemed very pleased and upbeat following the victory “I wish [the win] happened a lot more recently, but it’s good to get it. Everyone in this room’s been awesome with me, just encouraging me and supporting me and keeping me up, so hopefully I can return the favor and just start playing some really good hockey consistently and get some more wins.”

New Jersey, though not known for haughty goal-scoring have a few players to keep an eye on for the Sabres defense, including center Nico Hischier. Hischier currently has 10 points in his last nine games, including four goals in that time period. Also, Marcus Johansson, who usually plays left wing on the first line, alongside Travis Zajac, and All-Star Kyle Palmieri, has 10 points in his last 11 contests, equally distributing five goals and five assists during that time.

Starting goaltenders: 

Buffalo will turn to Carter Hutton in the nets for this contest. Hutton has a personal two-game losing streak, as he took the losses against the Jets and Blackhawks. However, he was very good against Winnipeg, stopping 26 of the 28 shots on-net. His last victory was on January 29, a 5-4 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. As was mentioned previously, he was also the winning goaltender of record in the first and only meeting between these two clubs this season. For his career, Hutton has played 5 games against New Jersey and has compiled a 3-2 record.

For the Devils, Cory Schneider will man the pipes, following his streak-busting win against Minnesota. For his career, Schneider has faced Buffalo 14 times and has compiled a very strong 8-3-3 record against the Sabres, with a respectable .926 save percentage, which includes two shut-outs. Granted, some of those starts came with playing behind a very strong Vancouver team early in his career, but he seems to have the Sabres number to this point and following the emotional win, is a good choice for New Jersey.

Craig Schutts
Millersville Alumni; Life-long Buffalo sports fan; Part-time writer and podcaster until they throw me out!
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