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Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres Preview: The Sabres aren’t bad anymore

These aren’t the same old Sabres.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lightning at Sabres: Game #18

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: First Niagara Center

Broadcast/Streaming: NBCS

Opponent SBNation Site: Die by the Blade

Preview:

The Tampa Bay Lighting are in Buffalo to face the Sabres tonight. For the past few years, the Sabres have been a punchline. They set the standard for tanking with their attempt to get Connor McDavid only to come up short and settle for Jack Eichel. Since then, they’ve struggled to regain any level of competency.

This year, things seem to finally be changing. They added Jeff Skinner in the offseason and he’s off to an incredible start. He has 19 points in 17 games including 12 goals. Eichel seems like a new player with Skinner on his wing matching his 19 points but with only four goals. This is an encouraging sign considering that last season, it seemed like maybe Eichel wouldn’t reach the lofty heights projected for him.

On the whole, the Sabres are a much better team. They’re above average in both shot share and expected goal share. Over their last ten games, they’ve been much better than that. They signed Carter Hutton to be their starting goaltender in the offseason, which was a gamble given his lack of track record as a starter in the NHL. So far, that bet seems to be holding up ok.

Comparison chart:

This is a team on the rise. Finally. And that’s a good thing because the league is more fun when Buffalo is good. They have a passionate fan base and if this team gets some momentum, things could start to get interesting in the Atlantic.

What will likely hold them back in the near future is their blue line. Rasmus Dahlin is projected to be a future star but he isn’t that yet. And outside of him, they don’t have anyone who inspires confidence. For now, this is a team with a dangerous top line, some solid forward depth, and not much else.

The Lightning enter the game still without Anton Stralman. Adam Erne might make his return tonight but we likely won’t know until later in the day. Erik Cernak was recalled from Syracuse this morning and could very well get his first NHL game tonight.

The team continues to play well but they’re coming off an uninspiring loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. They played well enough to win but couldn’t hold a 4-2 lead entering the third period. Part of that was defense. Part of that was Andrei Vasilevskiy not having a great night. Part of that was just bad luck. But whatever the case, that was a game against a bad team that they should have won.

Tonight starts a five game road trip against much better competition. Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Nashville, and Florida will be the opponents. None of those is an easy two points. The Lightning will want to start off well tonight because the more points they earn at the beginning of the trip, the less pressure they’ll be under as they get to the end of it when they’re more road weary.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callaha

Danick Martel - Ondrej Palat (injured)

Defense Pairings

Slater Koekkoek - Victor Hedman

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Anton Stralman (injured)

Goaltenders

Louis Domingue

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Opponent lines

Forward Lines

Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Conor Sheary - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo

Vladimir Sobotka - Evan Rodrigues - Jason Pominville

Patrik Berglund - Johan Larsson - Tage Thompson

Defense Pairings

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Zach Bogosian - Marco Scandella

Rasmus Dahlin - Nathan Beaulieu

Goalies

Carter Hutton

Linus Ullmark