Five points separate the Buffalo Sabres from a playoff spot right now. With 19 games left in the regular season, it isn’t over.
After a commanding 2-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks, the Sabres are right back at it tonight in a 10:30 p.m. face-off against the San Jose Sharks, who at 33-22-7 hold the seventh place spot in the Western Conference.
This is the second game of a four-game West Coast road trip for the Buffalo team. After tonight, they’ll travel to Vancouver on Saturday and Winnipeg Monday before returning home for a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 7.
Sharks player Joe Thornton is fourth in the league with 45 assists, and goaltender Antti Niemi has five shutouts on the season. Thornton also leads the Sharks with 59 points in 62 games, while center Logan Couture leads the team with 27 goals.
Seven players on the Sharks’ roster have ten or more goals on the season, compared to six players on the Buffalo squad.
Captain Jason Pominville leads the Sabres in goals (23), assists (36) and points (59).
Leading the Sabres in plus-minus is newcomer Cody Hodgson, who has a +9 and 33 points on the season. He played his first game with the team last night in Anaheim, while up-and-coming defenseman Alexander Sulzer, acquired via trade for Marc-Andre Gragnani, was scratched.
Before he left, Gragnani led the team with a plus-10.
This is the only meeting between the teams this season, but they met twice last season, with Buffalo taking both of those games. Based on the statistics from last year, look for Sabres forward Thomas Vanek to make an impact tonight.
The first game last season was a December 9th meeting where the Sabres won 6-3. Former Sabre – oh, how it pains me to write that – Paul Gaustad had three points, Cody McCormick had a goal and two assists, and Thomas Vanek scored twice in that win.
The second meeting was a January 6th meeting, which provided coach Lindy Ruff’s 500th career win as the Sabres shutout the Sharks 3-0. Luke Adam, Jochen Hecht, and Vanek scored.
Will Vanek continue his scoring streak against the San Jose team? Will Ryan Miller be in net for the second consecutive night, or will youngster Jhonas Enroth step up to the plate in this late-night meeting? And will the sometimes-inconsistent Sabres be able to shut down the Sharks’ big guns in Thornton, Couture and Patrick Marleau, who all have over 50 points so far this season?
Questions will become answers – starting at 10:30, anyways.