Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Keybank Center
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN+, BSSUN, MSG-B
Opponent SBNation Site: Die by the Blade
Things were a bit different the last time the Tampa Bay Lightning were in upstate New York. It was the end of October and Craig Anderson has just turned aside 35 of their shots to propel his Sabres team to a 5-1 victory. The win took Buffalo to a 4-1-1 record while the Lightning dropped to 2-3-1.
The final score made it look like a blowout, but the Bolts were actually in control possession-wise for most of the game. Unfortunately, a couple of mistakes ended up in the back of the Lightning net to give the Sabres a 3-1 lead in the third. Coach Cooper’s agressive pull of Brian Elliott (with 6 minutes to go in the game) didn’t work out and Buffalo added two empty net goals to finish off the game.
Since then things have gone a little differently for the two organizations. The Lightning went down to Pittsburgh the next night and beat the Penguins fairly handily and kicked off a 21-6-4 stretch. Meanwhile, Buffalo has scuffled along with a 6-17-5 record since their win against Tampa Bay.
Anderson suffered an upper-body injury a few days after the game and hasn’t played since November 2nd. In his stead there has been a rotating cast of netminders. Old friend Dustin Tokarski has seen the bulk of the action, appearing in 14 games and posting a 3.28 GA and .903 SV%. Prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukhonen, Aaron Dell, and Malcolm Subban have also seen time between the pipes.
Keeping the puck out of the net has been a glaring issue for Buffalo. Their 3.47 goals allowed per game ranks 27th in the league. Teams have been peppering their nets with shots along the way as they’ve allowed 34.1 shots per game, 30th in the league.
If their defensive struggles aren’t enough to worry Sabres fans, they will also be without their leading scorer as Tage Thompson is currently in COVID protocol. He’s been one of the few bright spots this season posting 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 34 games. His absence does lead the way for one of their top prospects to make his NHL debut. Jack Quinn was called up from Rochester and is expected to make the start tonight.
On the other end of the ice, the Lightning are looking to bounce back from a fairly poor outing against the Boston Bruins over the weekend. Defensive lapses, poor gap control, and a lack of energy doomed them to a rather pedestrian 5-2 loss to the Bruins.
Their roster still isn’t quite at full strength as Ross Colton remained in COVID protocol, Zach Bogosian is dealing with a lower-body injury, and Ryan McDonagh is still day-to-day with a lower-body ailment as well. Still, they should have enough talent on the roster to put together a full 60-minute effort and get back into the win column.
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Pat Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Boris Katchouk - Mathieu Joseph - Taylor Raddysh
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Mikhail Sergachev - Erik Cernak
Andrej Sustr/Zach Bogosian - Cal Foote
Update - Sounds like Bogosian is back in while McDonagh and Colton are game-time decisions.
Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines
Jeff Skinner - Rasmus Asplund - Victor Olofsson
Jack Quinn - Dylan Cozens - Vinnie Hinostroza
Anders Bjork - Cody Eakin - John Hayden
Zemgus Girgensons - Mark Jankowski - Drake Caggiula
Rasmus Dahlin - Henri Jokiharju
Jacob Bryson -Colin Miller
Robert Hagg - Casey Fitzgerald
Lines based on Monday’s practice. Subject to change (especially since Caggiula was wearing a non-contact jersey)