The Buffalo Sabres (1-6-1) return home on the heels of their first win of the season to face the Vancouver Canucks (4-3-0) at First Niagara Center with the hopes of creating their first winning streak of the year. The Sabres avoided their worst start in franchise history, but will face a strong test in the Canucks. They will need to redouble their efforts if they are going to avoid setting another record for futility down the road.
The Buffalo Sabres beat the New York Islanders (2-2-2) in a shootout at Nassau Colliseum to avoid being the lone team in Buffalo Sabres history to play its first eight games without a win. Now they hope to build on what have been a few strong games going back to the latter half of the Sabres/Blackhawks tilt. If they are to do that, the Sabres will need continued success from the Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford-Marcus Foligno line, which produced two goals in Long Island and was the team’s best overall line on the night. They also need better breakout passes from their young defensive core. It seems that if Christian Ehrhoff isn’t making the pass on a break out, the puck is inevitably coming back Buffalo’s way before it gets to the opposing blue line. The Sabres are improving defensively, but their offense is still based on a slow dump and chase, followed by flinging low percentage shots at the net. This strategy will eventually bring them back to their one goal per game pace they’d held through their first seven games.
The Canucks meanwhile need to stick to their game and trust that being the more talented, cohesive team will be enough to win. It will be a matter of focus for the former Western Conference Champions. The Sabres showed some life on the power play Tuesday against the Islanders so the Canucks will need to make sure to keep their sticks down (Kassian) and their feet moving. Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins have found some recent chemistry that should prove difficult for Buffalo’s defense. If coach John Tortorella continues to put Daniel Sedin on their wing, they could see immediate results once more. The Canucks have thus far proven they are firmly in the middle of the playoff pack by losing only to San Jose twice and the Montreal Canadiens once while dispatching the rest. If they can grab momentum early and become the eighth team to score the game’s first goal against Buffalo in the Sabres’ ninth game, Vancouver can suck the life out of a tenuous home crowd early and put the game on lockdown.
This game will feature two of the most accomplished goaltenders in the league since the season-long lockout in 2005. Buffalo will start Ryan Miller in net for Thursday’s tilt. While Miller is 1-4-0 thus far, his save percentage is a sparkling .939, which is sixth among goalies who have played five or more games.
The Vancouver Canucks will continue their practice in making awkward roster moves by starting Roberto Luongo, who enters the game with a less than ideal .899 save percentage. Though he is 3-3-0, one suspects his superior record has more to do with the team in front of him than anything else.
The Buffalo Sabres will begin a three game home stand against the Canucks that continues Saturday against the undefeated Colorado Avalanche and ends next Wednesday in their first game against the Boston Bruins (3-2-0).
The Canucks enter Buffalo in the second game of a season-long seven game road trip. They defeated Philadelphia on Tuesday and will travel to Pittsburgh for a game on Saturday.
While Nikita Zadorov skated in today’s warmups, he is unlikely to play while Joel Armia and Corey Tropp remain sidelined with injuries and Ville Leino remains on the IR. The only change in the lineup so far is that Zemgus Girgensons will not play tonight.
Game time is 7PM on MSG Network in all applicable areas.