Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sabres finish off three-game homestand tonight before yeilding to 2018 WJC

Published by, 12-22-2017

The Buffalo Sabres will close out a three-game homestand tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team they faced off against just over a week ago. In that game, Buffalo was looking to extend their points-streak to five games for the first time since 2012 but were throttled 2-1 in that game. Ryan O'Reilly scored just 1:29 into the game, but Flyers goalie Brian Elliott shut the door on them the rest of the way.

This is the second of three meetings between the Sabres and the Flyers this year and the conclusion of the series will take place on January 7 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The Sabres are 4-5-1 in their last 10 versus the Flyers, an identical 4-5-1 in their last 10 meetings in Buffalo. Last year the Sabres went 1-1-1 vs the Flyers losing the first meeting in the shootout after blowing a three-goal third period lead (all on the powerplay,) winning the next one 4-1 (at home,) then getting blown out 6-3 at home to conclude the season series.

The Sabres come into this game on a three-game losing streak that began with that 2-1 loss at Philly. They lost 5-4 in overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes the following night, then got shut out 3-0 by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. Head coach Phil Housley changed his lines after the 'Canes game, even though his team scored four goals, and they came up empty in the shutout loss vs. the Bruins. And he's at it again.

According to reports from the morning skate, Housley moved Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons, both of whom were on the fourth line against Boston, up to the top line with Jack Eichel. Evander Kane moved from the Eichel line to the O'Reilly line meaning Benoit Pouliot is back in the bottom six. Rookie Evan Rodrigues gets the night in the press box in favor of Scott Wilson.

These were the lines at the skate:

Kane - O'Reilly - Okposo
Girgensons - Eichel - Reinhart
Pouliot - Josefson - Pominville
Nolan - Larsson - Wilson

Housley also juggled his defense a bit by sitting Victor Antipin who'd been getting his groove on as of late, in favor of Josh Gorges. These were the defense pairings this morning:


Robin Lehner looks to get the nod in net tonight.

Speaking of Lehner, he's been a veritable wall as of late. In his last six games he's faced 217 shots and allowed only 13 goals (.940 save percentage.) He's given up three goals twice in that span--vs. Chicago and St. Louis consecutively--and faced 96 shots in those two games for a .937 Sv%. The Sabres forwards haven't given him a lot of love during that stretch as they managed to score only 12 goals, which is right about where their lowly 2.12 goals/game average is at right now, and Lehner left the crease with a 2-2-2 record.

After tonight the Sabres hit the road for the next seven games although one of them, the Winter Classic, is treated as a home game despite the fact that they player the NY Rangers at City Field in...New York City.

Go figure.


While the Sabres are on the road, the city of Buffalo will be hosting the World Junior Championship for the first time since 2011. Housley was an assistant coach for the Bronze Medal winning USA team that year and he would coach Team USA to the gold medal two years later in Ufa, Russia.

The Sabres look to have five prospects participating in the 2018 WJC:

USA--C, Casey Mittelstadt, (2017, 8th-overall)
SWE--LW, Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th)
SWE--C, Marcus Davidsson (2017, 37th)
FIN--G, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 54th)
CZE--D, Vojtech Budik (2016, 130th)

Mittelstadt is in his freshman year at the University of Minnesota and has 17 points (5+12) in 19 games for the 10th-ranked Golden Gophers. Davidsson is playing in the top league in Sweden and the 19 yr. old has nine points (2+7) in 23 games. The 18 yr. old Luukkonen has spent most of his season on loan to LeKi in Mestis, Finland's second highest league. Budick skates with the Prince Albert Raiders of the CHL's Western Hockey League where the defenseman has 11 points (2+9) and a plus-1 rating in 32 games.

The Sabres announced earlier this week that they're loaning Nylander to Team Sweden. Buffalo's 2016 first-round pick has been struggling in the AHL and was injured this summer. The loan is good for Sweden and they added a strong piece to a team that's a favorite to medal and it should be good for him. With those struggles in Rochester with the Americans, confidence could be waning and putting him in a tournament that he's very familiar with while playing against his peers, could help him get back on track.

The WJC is always a big thing for hockey fans as these are the stars of the future all in one tournament. Plus there's a continued rivalry between the US and Canada which will be heightened a bit this season as they take their preliminary round matchup outdoors. On December 29, the two teams will hook up at New Era Field in Orchard Park, NY, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

The World Junior Championships run from December 26-January 5 with the other games being held at KeyBank Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres, and the adjacent HarborCenter.

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