The Buffalo Sabres return to action this evening for the first time since Saturday, as they host the Florida Panthers in a 7 p.m. matchup at the First Niagara Center. Tonight’s game is the second of four meetings between the teams and of course, marks the first game since the Sabres’ hiring of a new GM earlier today.
The Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres sit in the bottom two spots of the Eastern Conference with a ten-point gap separating the two. Florida has a record 16-21-6 with 38 points on the season; Buffalo sits at 28 points with a 12-26-4 record.
The Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers have met once so far this season. Rasmus Ristolainen scored his first NHL goal, with Steve Ott and Cody Hodgson adding goals en route to a 3-1 Buffalo win. Jhonas Enroth had 44 saves in the win back on October 25. Jesse Winchester scored the lone Florida goal, assisted by Sean Bergenheim and Erik Gudbranson.
Although that game happened less than three months ago, a lot has changed in the Sabres world since then.
That game saw the Sabres become first team since 1996 to dress four teenagers in a single NHL game.
Of those four, only one will be in tonight’s lineup: Zemgus Girgensons. Mikhail Grigorenko just returned from the World Juniors but isn’t expected to play tonight; Nikita Zadorov is in the OHL, and Rasmus Ristolainen is still in Finland celebrating his WJC gold but is expected to return to North America in the coming days.
From a front office standpoint, Ron Rolston was still coaching the Sabres at that point. Now, it’s Ted Nolan as interim head coach. Pat Lafontaine’s been brought in, and now a new general manager is in tow, along with Craig Patrick, hired as special assistant and advisor to the hockey department. Suffice to say, there’s been some changes since that last meeting back in October.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- HOME ICE ADVANTAGE: The Buffalo Sabres have been doing well on home ice lately. In fact, the team hasn’t lost at home since December 14 when it suffered a 2-1 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. Since then, the Sabres have won five consecutive home games and will look to extend that number this evening.
- SCORING: The Buffalo Sabres are currently the lowest-scoring team in the league, with just 74 goals in 42 games played. The Panthers are better, but not significantly – they’re third in the league with 102. Scoring for both teams has been an issue, particularly for Buffalo, and it’s something they absolutely have to work on. (Common sense, yes, but still.)
- LIMITING OPPORTUNITIES: The Sabres also have the worst goal differential in the league (minus-44). Although the Panthers haven’t been a very high-scoring team – as noted above – this is still something to keep an eye on.
Following tonight’s game, the Sabres visit the Washington Capitals on Sunday, January 12 for a matinee meeting at 3 p.m.
The Panthers and Sabres meet twice more this season: January 21 in Buffalo and March 7 in Florida.
NEWS & NOTES
- Defenseman Mike Weber will be wearing an “A” tonight for the Sabres.
- Forward Drew Stafford has been placed on IR. Also out for tonight: Cody McCormick, Cody Hodgson, Kevin Porter, Henrik Tallinder and Ville Leino.
- Tonight will mark Marcus Foligno‘s 100th NHL game.
- Missing tonight for the Panthers will be forward Jesse Winchester (upper body) and defensemen Dylan Olsen and Alex Petrovic.