Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: First Niagara Center
Opponent SBNation Site: Die by the Blade
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.
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
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)
Slater Koekkoek - Victor Hedman
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Anton Stralman (injured)
Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
Conor Sheary - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo
Vladimir Sobotka - Evan Rodrigues - Jason Pominville
Patrik Berglund - Johan Larsson - Tage Thompson
Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen
Zach Bogosian - Marco Scandella
Rasmus Dahlin - Nathan Beaulieu