Can anyone in Sabreland remember Buffalo's last game? Sure, you can go to the scoreboard and see that the NY Islanders defeated the Sabres 1-0 and you might remember that the Islanders scored early before playing lockdown, 90's trap-hockey to secure the win. But other than that?
Buffalo hasn't played a game since their Saturday night loss to the Islanders at KeyBank Center and that's OK. The National Hockey League tabbed them to play in their Global Series over in Stockholm, Sweden against the Tampa Bay Lightning which is an honor, especially for six Sabres players who made the trip and are returning to their homeland as a part of an NHL team. Hats off to Sweden-natives:
D, Rasmus Dahlin
F, Marcus Johansson
F, Victor Olofsson
F, Johan Larsson
G, Linus Ullmark
D, Lawrence Pilut
Five of those players have been regulars on the Sabres roster this season with Pilut getting the call from Rochester to join the team on the trip. Pilut got the opportunity when defenseman Marco Scandella was placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury. It's unlikely he'll see the ice in his native Sweden but props to the Sabres organization for staying in the moment and calling him up for the trip.
Buffalo bench boss Ralph Krueger has stuck with nearly the same lineup through the Sabres first 12 games and it doesn't look as if it much will change today. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News tweeted out lines and defense pairings from their morning skate:
And, in another nod to the team realizing the importance of the moment, it looks as if Ullmark will get the start in front of family and friends in his homeland. "We're in Sweden, good place for him (Ullmark) to kick off our weekend," said Krueger to the gathered media. "Nothing complex there."
The game itself features two Atlantic Division foes squaring off in back-to-back contests at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. Game time for the locals is 8 p.m. in Sweden today providing a prime opportunity to see the NHL in primetime where normally NHL games are seen in the wee hours of the morning. Krueger, who spent many years in Europe both coaching national hockey teams and as director of an English soccer club is fully in the moment and recognizes the importance of the event, but it's still a regular season game for his club.
"This event, for sure, is excellent for the team," he said. "All the distractions and the white noise--which again, are positive, not negative--you need to be able to still bring it in when that puck drops tonight. To be 100 percent focused then on the execution we need to have is a challenge.
"We have a good feeling about the spirit of the team and the focus on what we need to do tonight."
The Sabres are playing a Lightning club that has struggled so far this season. The two-time defending Atlantic Division champs are off to a rather pedestrian 6-5-2 start with pretty much the same team they had last season when they sported 62-16-4 record while on their way to a 128-point, President's Trophy-winning season. Perhaps they're still feeling the effects of a first-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the playoffs last April, but this is still a dangerous team. The Lightning still boasts names like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, a 2018 Norris Trophy winner, anchoring a very talented roster.
In addition to a Tampa team that has all the talent to make life very difficult, the Sabres are facing off against some troubling history as the Lightning is 19-4-2 vs. Buffalo since the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Lately, however, it seems as if the Sabres haven't taken too kindly to Tampa and although they're just 3-5-2 in their last 10 games vs. against them, the two teams have themselves a little rivalry going. Last November Tampa stopped Buffalo's 10-game winning streak at Amalie Arena in a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere where they exchanged 51 hits and had many after-whistle skirmishes in a 5-4 Sabres loss.
Today's game is considered a "home game" for Buffalo and the Sabres will have the last line change, but they really haven't fared all that well as the "home team" away from Buffalo. The Sabres are only 1-3-3 in situations like that. However, they have won their first two games ever overseas defeating the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 in Helsinki, Finland before travelling to Berlin, Germany where they downed the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 to kick off the 2011-12 season. Goalie Ryan Miller got both wins and it was the beginning Terry Pegula's first full season as owner of the Buffalo Sabres. For those interested, Thomas Vanek (two powerplay goals,) Ville Leino and Jason Pominville tallied goals against the Ducks while Luke Adam (2,) Paul Gaustad and Drew Stafford scored against the Kings.
The Sabres are 9-4-2 on the seaosn but only 1-3-1 in their last five games.
Of note, the game will be played on regulation NHL ice (200' x 85') and don't forget that game-time is 2 p.m. ET on NBSCN.