Wake up! There's a Sabres game this afternoon.
Sure is. The Buffalo Sabres are hosting the Dallas Stars at 1 pm today and it's a game they have a good chance of winning. Despite the huge disparity in points (Dallas-56 and Buffalo-31) and the Sabres lackluster 3-7-0 record vs. Dallas in their last 10, Buffalo is 7-2-1 vs. the Stars at home. During the last four seasons, which includes the 2013-15 tank years, the Sabres are 2-2-0 at home vs Dallas alternating losses and wins beginning October, 2013.
The Sabres may have gotten a break today as the Stars are starting Kari Lehtonen in net with Dallas finishing up a four-game road-trip. Starter Ben Bishop was in net for Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss at Columbus and with the Stars going 2-0-1 on the trip so far and set to face a struggling Sabres team, Lehtonen gets the call. Not that it's any worry for the Stars as they thumped Buffalo 5-1 back in November with Lehtonen in net, but Bishop is 10-0-0 vs. Buffalo over the last five years allowing only 16 goals in the process.
It's no secret that the Sabres have had trouble scoring goals for...well...years and this matchup doesn't look all that great. But Sabres fans should take some solace in that it's a home game vs. the Stars and that their own star, Jack Eichel, is really heating up. The No. 2 overall pick in 2015 is on a three-game multi-point streak (3 goals + 4 assists) and has racked up 10 goals and nine assists in his last 13 games.
Sabres winger Kyle Okposo is also on a three-game multi-point streak (2+5) and seems to have finally recovered from his health-scare last April. Okposo has eight points (3+8) in his last nine games.
Buffalo is coming off of a tough loss at NY vs. the Rangers on Thursday night. Three times they battled back from a one-goal deficit to tie the score but the eventually lost 4-3. The Sabres came off of their bye week a little slow but found their legs as the game progressed and made it very difficult on the Rangers. Were it not for some stellar goaltending by future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist, the game may have gone to overtime.
Despite the loss, the takeaway from that game should be that they found a way to beat a premier goalie who was on his game. For years the Sabres have been having trouble beating both starters and back-ups mainly due to their insistence on perimeter play. From Lindy Ruff to Ted Nolan to Dan Bylsma to Phil Housley, coaches have begged them to get to the dirty areas and create some havoc in front of the net. When the players did so, good things would happen but when they didn't, which has happened far too often, Buffalo ended up on the wrong end of the score.
Against Lundqvist and the Rangers, the Sabres had a strong net-front presence resulted in two of the Sabres goals coming of shots from defensemen (Justin Falk and Rasmus Ristolainen) through heavy traffic. They also had great movement on the powerplay as they went 2/4 with the man advantage.
Things are starting to click a bit more with the Sabres and despite their 11-25-9 record, as the Rangers found out, they're not a pushover when playing to their individual skill-levels.
The Sabres recalled winger Nicolas Baptiste yesterday, but it doesn't look as if he'll be in the lineup this afternoon. According to Jourdon LaBarber of Sabres.com Housley's going with the same lineup he had vs. the Rangers:
Robin Lehner looks to get the start for the Sabres.
Baptiste said yesterday about his call-up that he's been doing the right things away from the puck in Rochester and that it got the attention of the coaching staff in Buffalo as well. "I've definitely improved my game, I think, defensively and on the walls and penalty killing and all those things," Baptiste said yesterday to the gathered media at KeyBank Center. "I'm up here to show Coach Housley that he can trust me in the D-zone and I think that's part of the reason I'm up here.
"I don't think it's a change in my role. I think it's finding a way to play at this level and being able, if you're not scoring, being able to provide physical play, speed and helping in my D-zone. I think I've just developed my game."
Both he and defenseman Victor Antipin, who has been out of the lineup since December as a healthy scratch and because of the flu, are in the press box today.