The Buffalo Sabres host the Phoenix Coyotes this evening at the First Niagara Center in the final game prior to the Christmas holiday. Tonight’s game marks the first of two meetings this season between the teams and marks the first time the Buffalo Sabres and Phoenix Coyotes face each other since November 19, 2011, when Phoenix came out on top, 4-2.
Last time these teams met, Paul Bissonnette scored his first goal of the season to break a 2-2 tie en route to an eventual Phoenix victory. Shane Doan also scored for the Coyotes, while Radim Vrbata had a pair of goals, including an empty netter. Luke Adam and Patrick Kaleta scored for the Sabres. Jhonas Enroth had 25 saves in the loss.
Both teams have seen some turnover in their rosters since their last meeting over two years ago. For the Phoenix Coyotes, some of their core players – such as team captain Shane Doan – 18 of 35 skaters from the 2011-12 season remain in place, while others have since moved on. For the Buffalo Sabres, just 13 of the 36 skaters who played for the team during the 2011-12 season are currently on the team. (Note: This excludes Luke Adam, Patrick Kaleta and Brayden McNabb, who are all currently with the AHL’s Rochester Americans.)
Point is: while some parts of the teams remain the same, a lot of tonight’s game will be against a new opponent. “New” additions to the Phoenix lineup include Mike Ribeiro, former Buffalo Sabres prospect Tim Kennedy, defensemen Connor Murphy and Zbynek Michalek and goaltender Thomas Greiss.
One player that the Buffalo Sabres will not have to watch during tonight’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes will be captain Shane Doan. Doan is currently out of the lineup with symptoms of what is believed to be Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne disease. He has begun skating and is currently receiving medication for the condition, but has no timetable for a return to the team scheduled at the present time.
Vrbata is one player who should be on the Buffalo Sabres’ minds as they approach tonight’s game. The right winger has a team-leading 27 points this season, including four power-play goals and two game-winning goals. With Doan out, Vrbata leads the team in power play goals and also leads the Coyotes in shots (115).
Antoine Vermette is another player to watch; his 12 goals are tied with captain Shane Doan for the team lead in that statistic. Vermette is coming off a game versus the Ottawa Senators, his former team, in which he scored a hat trick as the Coyotes defeated Ottawa 4-3 in overtime.
Keith Yandle has a team-high 18 assists, while Mikkel Boedker has 10 goals and 14 assists in 35 games. Finally, centers Mike Ribeiro and Martin Hanzal have 26 and 24 points each on the season, respectively.
Tonight’s game will mark the first time that several players on the Buffalo Sabres roster will face the Coyotes in their NHL careers. Mike Weber, Marcus Foligno, Brian Flynn and Mark Pysyk are among those who have never faced the Phoenix team.
Three Buffalo Sabres players to keep an eye out for tonight will be defenseman Tyler Myers and forwards Steve Ott and Drew Stafford. Myers has three points in four career games against the Coyotes, while Stafford has five points in seven games against Phoenix. Ott leads all Sabres with 16 points in 44 career games against the Coyotes. If Ryan Miller is in net, he’ll look to improve to 5-0-0 against Phoenix in his NHL career.
Missing from the lineup tonight for Buffalo will be forwards Cody McCormick and Cody Hodgson, both out with injuries. With Hodgson out, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson are currently the team’s leading scorers, with 14 points each.
Tonight, the Sabres face a Phoenix team that sits fifth in the Pacific Division, with a 19-10-6 record and 44 points. They’ll look to build off Saturday’s victory over Ottawa heading into this evening’s meeting with Buffalo. The Sabres, meanwhile, sit 8th in the Atlantic Division, with a record of 9-24-3 and 21 points.
Tonight’s game begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are available and can be purchased online by visiting this link.
Following this evening’s game, the teams will meet again on January 30 in Phoenix.