The Buffalo Sabres (7-23-3) host the Winnipeg Jets (15-15-5) in a game that should rekindle what was at the very least a fierce disliking between the two teams during their brief time as Eastern Conference counterparts. For the Jets, this game is an opportunity to start a winning streak against a vulnerable opponent. For Buffalo, it’s about building on slow, but certain progress that has seen the team play with pride once again.
The Buffalo Sabres haven’t beaten the Winnipeg Jets since their first game played against Buffalo as a Winnipeg franchise. The Sabres won that home game 6-5 in an OT thriller. It’s safe to say those results probably won’t be replicated, but that doesn’t mean the Sabres don’t have a puncher’s chance here, despite their history. The Jets have been, well, the ever-mediocre Jets but that hasn’t prevented them from dominating the Sabres the last few years. Buffalo has only scored one goal in each of its last six games against Winnipeg. They’ve not only lost, but been humiliated at times thanks to raucous chants of ‘Silver Medal’ in game played north of the border. Ryan Miller will get his chance to avenge those chants in preparation for another run at gold in Sochi as he starts tonight. If the Sabres can get through with the same number of shots they’ve put on net recently, it stands to reason they’ll find more success against Winnipeg’s starting goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, whose career save percentage is a .907.
For the first time since a stretch in December 2011, the Sabres have outshot or tied their opponent for four straight games. Ted Nolan may not be coaxing a lot of goals out of this squad, but he is getting some great effort from this team and it’s starting to show up on at least one part of the scoreboard. Additionally, the team’s Corsi rating has skyrocketed since Ted Nolan’s arrival. While the team’s rating in 5v5 play was 35.6% upon Nolan’s arrival, they now sit at 47.7%. That leap is roughly the difference between the third-best Corsi team in the NHL and the 30th. All indications are that this team is getting better in the effort and possession departments. Now they need to put it together with some finish. A team like Winnipeg presents an opportunity for this Buffalo team to gain some confidence and score some goals.
It stands to reason that Jets are still favorites in this game. If nothing else, they have twice as many points in the standings as do the Sabres. They also play in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, which has a 123-53-22 head to head record with Eastern Conference foes. Be default this one goes to the Jets in the minds of betters, but don’t let that fool you. The Sabres have played spirited hockey of late and against a team ranked 25th in goals against this year, they just might find the offensive success they need to get a home win.
The puck drops at 7PM ET on MSG Network in the Buffalo area.