The Buffalo Sabres head into tonight's contest in Nashville having lost two games in row for the first time since October 16-18. Most probably wouldn't be surprised that Buffalo went 0-1-1 in Florida as 1.) they've had trouble on that Sunshine State road trip for years and 2.) a demanding schedule and the pressure of tying a franchise-high winning-streak may have finally gotten to them both physically and mentally. The Tampa Bay Lightning ended the Sabres winning streak with a come-from-behind win in a see-saw battle that saw five lead changes in the game. The following night Buffalo was in Sunrise, Florida to face off against the Panthers where they proceeded to lose 3-2 in overtime.
In the 10 games prior to their back-to-back road losses in Florida, the Sabres played 10 games in 20 nights which included a three-game road trip, two more back-to-backs and had seven of those games decided in overtime or the shootout. During the first seven games of the streak they allowed a third period goal once, to the Vancouver Canucks, and followed game that by not allowing a third period goal in the next five contests. Montreal finally broke that run with a goal at the 8:18 mark of the third period to take the lead but Buffalo tied it and won the game in overtime. The next night in Detroit the Sabres gave up the game-tying goal in the third period but won in the shootout and vs. San Jose last Tuesday they coughed up a two-goal third period lead but won in overtime.
Against the Lightning, with first place in the league on the line, the Sabres once again had a third period lead but surrendered two goals and lost in regulation. Buffalo also had a one-goal third period lead against the Panthers but surrendered the game-tying goal and lost in overtime.
After allowing only one third period goal in the first seven games of the winning streak, the Sabres have coughed up a third period lead in four straight games, which includes leads of two goals twice. They won the first two, but have now lost two in a row.
Is the three-day rest between games enough for them to recharge their batteries? The physical aspect shouldn't be too difficult to overcome for a team that's very young at it's core. Some of the veterans might struggle a little bit and one, 35 yr. old Jason Pominville, was in a non-contact jersey at yesterday's practice, but the mental aspect might prove to be a little more difficult. Their 10-game winning streak included in a 12-game-in-23-day schedule with seven of them on the road featuring two road trips containing two of three sets of back-to-backs. It would put a strain on any team, especially one that is unaccustomed to this kind of pressure after finishing last season with the worst record in the league.
That said, it's a new month and Buffalo is finishing off this present three-game road trip below the Mason-Dixon line with a visit to Music City to play the NHL's third-best team, the Nashville Predators.
Despite having a pathetic season in 2017-18, the Sabres managed a surprising 7-4 win last March in Nashville as Buffalo head coach Phil Housley made a triumphant return to the place he'd spent the previous four seasons as an assistant coach. Sam Reinhart had the hat trick and Jack Eichel had five assists as the game turned on a five-minute boarding penalty for a shot by Nashville's Scotty Hartnell on Buffalo's Victor Antipin, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher. It would be Antipin's final game of a short, 47-game NHL career.
The Sabres have won the last three in Nashville, which is somewhat strange considering the discrepancy in the standings between the two teams and the large discrepancy in talent the Preds had last season over Buffalo. The Sabres enter tonight with a 17-7-3 record and their 37 points ties them with Nashville and the Colorado Avalanche for third in the NHL. They are only one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and two points behind the league-leading Lightning, both of whom are Atlantic Division foes.
According to reports from the rink, Pominville looks to be out tonight as does forward Conor Sheary and with defenseman Marco Scandella on injured reserve and fellow d-man Jake McCabe out, this is the probable lineup tonight against Nashville:
Jeff Skinner-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Tage Thompson-Casey Mittelstadt-Kyle Okposo
Remi Elie-Evan Rodrigues-Vladimir Sobotka
Patrik Berglund-Johan Larsson-Zemgus Girgensons
Rasmus Dahlin-Zach Bogosian
Lawrence Pilut-Rasmus Ristolainen
Nathan Beaulieu-Casey Nelson