The Sabres return home to face a division rival. Can they keep their point streak alive? Here are three keys to tonight’s matchup.
The Buffalo Sabres have opened their 2019-20 season by earning at least one point in each of their first three games, and currently share second place in the Atlantic Division with the Toronto Maple Leafs. This fast start has players and fans alike believing that the team’s 50th season in the NHL might extend into the postseason for the first time in nine seasons.
However, the Sabres cannot feel good about their performance in Monday night’s loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The blue and gold allowed a winless Blue Jackets squad to dictate play early and outshoot them 44-18 when it was all said and done. The Sabres barely managed to earn their point, needing a gift in the form of a faceoff violation and some late-game heroics by Victor Olofsson to squeeze their way into overtime.
Tonight, the Sabres return home to square off against a Canadiens team that completed a huge comeback on the road against the Maple Leafs this Saturday. The team would love to pick up two points, which would move them into first place in the Atlantic, as both the Leafs and the Boston Bruins are idle tonight. Here are the three keys to earning those coveted two points.
1. Jack Eichel Must Do What All Great Players Do: Respond
Captain Jack did not do enough to put his team in a position to win Monday night. He finished -2 on the evening, and worse, he lost the puck to Blue Jackets’ forward Nick Foligno deep in the Sabres’ defensive zone, allowing Foligno to set up Alexandre Texier for the game-winning goal in OT. Eichel also had a point-blank shot at the end of regulation that he failed to convert. It’s impossible to pin the blame on just one guy, but the Sabres need more from their captain tonight.
2. Sabres D must tighten up in the defensive zone.
Linus Ullmark put in some serious work Monday night, but a team with playoff aspirations cannot ask its goaltenders to make 40+ saves an evening in the NHL. Columbus’ 44 shots was its highest output of the season so far, 14 more than its next best effort, and the Blue Jackets lived in the Sabres’ end of the ice all evening, enjoying a 64.1% offensive zone start percentage. The Sabres started the season by taking it to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils; they need to regain their form and dominate possession at home tonight.
3. Keep Riding Rasmus – Dahlin, Of Course!
Rasmus Dahlin has been everything Sabres fans hoped he would be, and more. He is riding a three-game points streak heading into tonight, is +4 on the season so far, and with three power-play assists, he has been a huge reason why the Sabres currently enjoy one of the most successful power-play units in the NHL thus far. (And we haven’t discussed some of his advanced stats, which are crazy good for someone who has yet to turn 20!) Getting the puck on Dahlin’s stick results in good things more often than not. Ralph Krueger would be wise to give the young phenom around 22-24 minutes of ice time tonight (Dahlin is currently averaging 18:50 TOI this season).
There are always more than three keys to a game in the NHL! Share your thoughts below, and go Sabres!