It’s another Sabres game day with the Florida Panthers hosting the Buffalo Sabres at the FLA Live Arena this evening at 7 pm. The weather in Sunrise, Florida is 81˚ today and every day for the next week, per weather.com, so head on down to the arena to get out of the sweltering December heat and into the cool confines of a climate-controlled arena.
The Panthers are finally cooling off a bit over their last 10 games (5-3-2), although they still boast a terrific 15-4-3 record on the season, so the Sabres will undoubtedly have their work cut out for them if they want to secure a win in south Florida tonight. Let’s get to the story lines:
Mittelstadt’s Return: The Sabres are finally getting some good news as it pertains to their injured list. Casey Mittelstadt is set to join the team for the first time since the season opener on October 14th when he was injured on a partial breakaway opportunity. The NHL does not tell us what a player’s injury is, exactly, other than specifying whether the top half or bottom half of his body was hurt. This is due to the prevailing belief that opposing players would target a specific region if given access to that information. The NHL could simply crack down on that kind of malicious behavior rather than leave fans in the dark as to specific injuries, but nah, let’s just say that Mittelstadt’s “upper” was hurt. It appears his upper is much better now.
More Good News: The Sabres suffered a scare yesterday as Dustin Tokarski left his net late in practice after taking a shot off the mask from one of his teammates. First of all, whoever took that shot needs to go sit in the shame corner and think about what he did because losing Tokarski due to a completely avoidable practice injury would be a hell of a way to destroy a season. That said, Tokarski's upper body is apparently fine. Also of note, Craig Anderson is traveling with the team and is practicing on his own. Anderson’s return date is still not set, although it’s unlikely he will be available for either tonight’s game or Saturday night’s game against the Hurricanes. Alex Tuch is also travelling with the team despite a targeted return date of somewhere around Christmas.
The Lines: Per Sabres.com, the Sabres' line rushes looked like this on Wednesday:
The two likely scratches will therefore be Anders Bjork and John Hayden who have both been mediocre throughout the early going of the season. Asplund too has cooled off since leaving Tage Thompson’s line and it will be up to the newly inserted Mittelstadt to get him rolling again. That third line trio of Murray, Cozens and Okposo brings some real size and physical presence to a team that is otherwise bereft of those attributes. The practice lines also indicate that Bryson will slot in for Butcher and Dahlin will continue to play with Mark Pysyk.
Per thefouthperiod.com and Elliotte Friedman, the Sabres are involved in the trade market to acquire a goalie. That would have been awesome news a month ago when Craig Anderson was hurt on November 2nd and the Sabres had a 5-3-1 record. As it stands, the Sabres are 8-11-3 on December 2nd and fans have watched Aaron Dell compile an 0-4-0 record with an .862 SV% over parts of 5 games. There’s no great reason why it should have taken a literal month to try something – anything – other than Aaron Dell, but here we are.
Bryson Back: Sabres Defenseman Jacob Bryson is also back in the fold and ready to go for tonight’s game. The Sabres will have a lot of options with Bryson returning to game shape, starting with the possibility of scratching Rasmus Dahlin following his abysmal performance against the Kraken on Monday. The Sabres coaching staff led by Don Granato isn’t in the business of punishing young players for poor performance. Dylan Cozens has struggled at times throughout his second season and the Sabres seem to prefer to let the young guys work through their problems rather than sit them up in the press box to eat stale popcorn. Still, it could benefit Dahlin to sit out and watch a game from afar.
Reinhart Returns: Sam Reinhart will face the Sabres for the first time since his trade to Florida over the summer. The former second-overall pick is putting up a vintage Reinhart season with 13 points in 22 games and he has a +2 to boot. Reinhart scored a game-winning goal against the Capitals with less than 20 seconds left on Tuesday to cap a 5-4 comeback which saw the Panthers score 4 unanswered goals in the third period. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of welcome Reinhart gets from the Buffalo crowd when he plays his first game in Buffalo on… March 7?!? Yeah, despite being in the same division, it’s going to be the beginning of spring before the Panthers and Sabres play each other again. That might be a good thing for the Sabres considering how well Florida is playing to start the year.
Wrong Panthers: If you go to Panthers.com to see what’s happening on the ice, you’re going to find yourself looking at the stats for Cam Newton (5/21, 92 yards, 2 INT) instead. A quick check of NHL shortcuts finds that bluejackets.com and mapleleafs.com will divert you to the right place while ducks.com takes you absolutely nowhere. I’ve gotten very used to typing sabres.com for all things baseline-stat related, so thanks to the good people operating the team site. Godspeed to the McCaffrey-less Panthers. Better luck next year.
This contest certainly looks like a classic mismatch on paper. The Sabres are going to need to bring their A-game to this one to stand any chance of coming away with a point or two. The good news is it looks like Tokarski will be available to go for the Sabres rather than Aaron Dell.