Dec 22, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Minnesota Wild right wing Jason Pominville (29) controls the puck against the New York Rangers during the first period of a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Sabres PreGame Skate #41: Minnesota Wild

The Buffalo Sabres will look to start off 2014 with a bang as they visit the Minnesota Wild in the team’s first game of the new year this evening at 8 p.m. (Yes, you read that right – the game begins at 8 p.m., not the typical 7 p.m. start time tonight, folks!)

Tonight’s game will see a few familiar faces compete against their former teams, as former Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville and former Minnesota Wild forward Johan Larsson face their respective former clubs.

Both the Minnesota Wild and the Buffalo Sabres are coming off losses and will look for a fresh start tonight, with the Sabres looking to rebound after a 3-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. The Wild, meanwhile, are on a six-game losing streak dating back to December 19, garnering no points in that stretch.

The Sabres currently sit last in the Atlantic Division, with 26 points – 10 shy of the Florida Panthers. A win tonight could put the Sabres’ record at 4-13-2 on the road, an area the team certainly needs to work on in the second half of the season. Oh! If you weren’t already aware, tonight’s game marks the exact halfway point for the Buffalo Sabres. The team went 11-25-4 in the first 40 games of the season and after tonight, it’s the second half of the season which could prove crucial for any sort of playoff chance (are we still hanging on to those?) or draft selection spots.

The Wild, meanwhile, are fifth in the Central Division. A win tonight combined with a Dallas loss would tie the Wild with the Stars for fourth place. The Wild are 20-17-5 overall and are 14-5-2 at home, so tonight’s game is sure to be a test for the road-challenged Sabres.

The Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild have faced each other once this season, with tonight’s meeting being the second and final of the year for the teams. Minnesota came out on top 2-1 thanks to none other than Jason Pominville (on the power play, no less) when the teams met in Buffalo back in October. Kyle Brodziak also scored for the Wild, while Buffalo’s goal came from Brian Flynn.

Jhonas Enroth had 18 saves in the loss, while Josh Harding had 22 saves for the Wild.

Tonight’s game will mark the first time Johan Larsson will face his former club. Larsson, originally a 2010 2nd-round draft pick of the Wild, was traded back in April to Buffalo along with Matt Hackett in exchange for Pominville. He played just one NHL game with the Wild during his tenure there; meanwhile, he’s set to play his 19th game as a member of the Buffalo Sabres organization tonight.

Larsson has one assist and 13 penalty minutes this season with Buffalo.

Of course, there will be a familiar face for Buffalo Sabres fans on the other side of things tonight. Jason Pominville has a team-high 17 goals on the season; he’s also got 11 assists for 28 points overall on the season. Pominville’s stat line includes five power play goals and four game-winners. Oh – and tonight’s his bobblehead night over in Minnesota!

Other players to watch on the Wild will include center Mikko Koivu, who has just eight goals but has put up 23 assists this season. Ryan Suter (2-22) is another player the Sabres will need to contain this evening if they hope to win. Matt Cooke also has 10 points and 39 penalty minutes in 30 career games versus Buffalo. Koivu is on a three-game point streak, while Suter is on a two-game streak.

The Wild will be without Zach Parise, who has 17 points in 27 career games against the Sabres. Parise was placed on injured reserve with what is believed to be a fractured foot. Another face missing from the Wild lineup will be Zenon Konopka, who was placed on waivers by Minnesota on Thursday.

Clayton Stoner will return to the lineup for the Wild after missing the previous four games with a lower-body injury. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper will also join the Wild on an emergency basis to fill in for Josh Harding, who reportedly felt ill on Thursday morning.

For the Sabres, Cody McCormick, Kevin Porter and Cody Hodgson all remain on injured reserve and are out for tonight’s game. Ville Leino left Tuesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets in the first period with a lower-body injured and is not expected to play tonight.

This season marks the first time since the 2003-2004 NHL season that the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild face each other in regular season action. The Sabres have won their last three road games against the Wild and haven’t lost in Minnesota since Dec. 13, 2003.

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