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Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning preview: Beasts of the East meet in the sunshine state

The Lightning look to cool the red-hot Sabres and retake first place in the East.

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

Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME 26

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, MSG-B

Opponent SBNation Site: Die By The Blade

Preview:

It’s only just over a quarter of the way into the season, but the Buffalo Sabres are first in the entire National Hockey League. They’re coming off a 3-2 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks are the hottest team in the league right now. Buffalo’s surge up the East standings is in large part due to the brilliance of Jeff Skinner, who has seemingly revived his career after a tumultuous tenure in Carolina. Skinner is in a three-way tie for the league lead in goals (19) and has 27 points in 25 games this season. No other Sabre has hit 10 goals (Jason Pominville is second with nine).

But the Sabres are far from a one-man wrecking machine. Their success has been a team effort; from Jack Eichel matching Skinner’s point totals to secondary scoring from Pominville, Sam Reinhart, and Kyle Okposo, and solid defending from Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Former NHL backup Carter Hutton has made a strong transition to becoming the Sabres starting goalie with 12 wins (third in the NHL). The Sabres victory against the Sharks tied a franchise record of 10 straight wins, and they look to extend it with a win against the Lightning tonight.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, have been fighting to stay atop the Atlantic, fending off pushes for the top spot from the Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs. They sit tied for second in the NHL (with Nashville, of course), but they dropped their last game 3-1 to the middling, defensively struggling Anaheim Ducks. However, they had won three straight prior to Tuesday. Brayden Point continues to write his way into the Hart Trophy conversation (or at least nearly every article on the Lightning in the last week), and despite injuries to key players at every position, Tampa Bay continues to roll.

The team announced Wednesday that Anton Stralman will continue to be treated for his injury and won’t return for at least another week. Andrei Vasilevskiy remains out for the forseeable future, but Tampa could get Ondrej Palat back into the lineup very soon. The Sabres haven’t escaped the injury bug either, but they’ve been fortunate to have their best players remain healthy during their hot streak. Both Marco Scandella and Conor Sheary missed Tuesday’s game for the Sabres, and haven’t been ruled out for a return against the Lightning tonight.

It will be Connor Ingram backing up Louis Domingue tonight, as the Bolts returned Eddie Pasquale to Syracuse to get him more playing time. It’s not the first time the Lightning have brought up Ingram to get their backup into more games — he was called up twice in January last season to give Domingue some starts with the Crunch. Ingram was just named the AHL’s player of the week and won his last six starts (including two shutouts), but Domingue will remain Tampa’s starter until Vasilevskiy is healthy enough to return.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Yanni Gourde - Steven Stamkos - Mathieu Joseph

Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller

Ondrej Palat - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Adam Erne (ill)

Defense

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Slater Koekkoek

Injured: Anton Stralman

Goalies

Louis Domingue

Connor Ingram

Injured: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Tage Thompson - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo

Vladimir Sobotka - Evan Rodrigues - Jason Pominville

Remi Elie - Johan Larsson - Zemgus Girgensons

Injured: Patrik Berglund, Conor Sheary

Defense

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Dahlin - Zach Bogosian

Nathan Beaulieu - Casey Nelson

Injured: Matt Hunwick, Marco Scandella

Goalies

Carter Hutton

Linus Ullmark

Update:

Adam Erne missed morning skate with an illness, so Ondrej Palat took his place in line rushes and could make his return if Erne is not ready to go tonight.

Update #2:

Palat will play tonight, so we have updated the lines accordingly.