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The Next Great Sabres Writer Finalist. Hank previews the penguins game.

April 17, 2021, 1:03 AM ET [402 Comments]
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Ek’s notes. The latest from Hank. He is one of the finalist to be the next great sabres blogger. Loving his stuff!

Game Preview – Penguins at Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres are playing host to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Saturday afternoon matinee. Here’s what you need to know before puck drop.

Season Series: (0-4-0)
The season series record in many ways is not a useful tool. If Krueger were still coaching, we would almost certainly watch Cody Eakin line up against Sydney Crosby for three periods, then afterwards we could check the carnage on Eakin’s CF%. As it stands, interim coach Granato is behind the bench for the game and he is one of three different head coaches to go against Mike Sullivan this season. Kevyn Adams played the role of (interim) interim head coach when Granato was unavailable due to Covid-19 protocols on March 25. The day before, Granato’s squad lost 5-2 to the Penguins.

The Kids Are Alright:
In the last seven games: Rasmus Dahlin has 6 points, Casey Mittelstadt has 6 points, Dylan Cozens has 4 points (4 points in the last 4 games), Tage Thompson has 4 points, Rasmus Asplund has 4 points and Henri Jokiharju has 4 points. Granato is doing what he needs to do by giving the padawans plenty of training reps. I think it is fair to say that strategy is going over pretty well among Sabres fans.

Shadowing Sydney:

Going back to Cody Eakin, it seems likely he won’t be given the duty of chasing Sydney Crosby around the Sabres’ defensive zone. Granato did not play him at all in the final 10 minutes of the game against the Capitals on Thursday. Given Granato’s willingness to let the kids learn on the job, it’s possible that job goes to the trio of Anders Bjork, Dylan Cozens and Arttu Ruotsalainen following their terrific performance in Washington. The advanced stats on those three from the game were phenomenal which leads me to believe they’re the betting favorites to land the job.

Bjork To The Future:

​Woof. I’m sorry about that. Anders Bjork has been something to watch in his first two games as a Sabre. The first thing that any observer is going to note is his blazing-fast speed. For years, this team has suffered a severe lack of speed, but it appears the Sabres are finally turning the corner on that by acquiring players like Bjork. With 3 points in 2 games, he’s made a grand entrance. The initial reviews on Kevyn Adams return for Taylor Hall were mixed at best, but if Bjork can stay healthy, it looks like the Sabres may have found a solid middle-6 contributor. His status for the expansion draft will be an interesting story to follow, but that’s a story for a different day.

In the Net:
​This is one of the more interesting storylines heading into the game as Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen could be between the pipes for the game. If he does start, it will be the first NHL game action for the former 2nd round pick. But whether Luukkonen starts or not, it seems he will replace Michael Houser as one of the two active goaltenders. While not the proverbial Zamboni driver, the 28 year-old Houser is primarily an ECHL goalie so it’s probably for the best he heads back to the taxi squad. Luukonnen current sports a .888 save percentage with the Rochester Americans so it’s not the ideal time to give the kid a look, but these are not ideal times in Sabreland. The other candidate to start is Dustin Tokarski who finally, finally got a win. The Capitals game provided a great moment for him as he notched his first NHL win in over 5 years. During that span he also lost his father. It was clearly an emotional moment for him, and his teammates seemed to feel it as well.

Injury Report:
​Kyle Okposo took a puck off the side of the head from his own teammate and his status is not currently clear. With Okposo’s history of concussions, it’s never good to see him go down due to an issue with his head, but the best case scenario is that he “only” got a nasty laceration on his face/ear. Existing injuries still apply to Jack Eichel (spine), Jake McCabe (knee), Carter Hutton (upper body) and Linus Ullmark (No idea so I’ll just say “body”).

Wear It With Pride:
​Saturday’s game is billed as “the NHL's first-ever joint Pride Game on Saturday, April 17 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo… Pride Game aims to bring together two cities to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities by sharing stories of inclusion, hope and allyship,” according to the Sabres website. It’s great to see the Sabres reach out and host this after they missed out last year. It’s a personal issue for me as my sister is a huge Sabres fan and a member of the LGBTQ community. We spent a big chunk of my childhood playing roller hockey in the basement while listening to Jock Jams on a boom box (the most ‘90s sentence imaginable). We even made a replica Stanley Cup out of tin foil and Tupperware. Unfortunately for me, she is six years older than I am, so her go-to move of stiff-arming me with one hand and skating around me was basically impenetrable.

Prediction:
​I like Granato to pick up the Sabres first win against the Penguins. It seemed like the Sabres caught the Capitals by surprise so perhaps the Sabres can do that to Pittsburgh in a high-scoring affair. 6-4 Sabres.
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