Sabres look to end 2019 with a win against Tampa Bay

Buffalo is looking to avoid getting swept in the season series with the Lightning

Pat Malacaro
December 31, 2019 - 11:43 am
Jack Eichel

Photo: Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

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The Buffalo Sabres hit the hallway point of the season on Tuesday, closing out the 2019 portion of the schedule against the Tampa Bay Lightning at KeyBank Center. It also concludes the season series between the two teams that met twice in Sweden early last month.

Buffalo finds themselves in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, and three points behind a surging Lightning club that has won three straight games. Tampa Bay has outscored opponents 13-6, including a 6-1 win over the Florida Panthers to begin the streak.

Head coach Ralph Krueger would like to see a similar effort to the previous two games against the Boston Bruins. He believes that Tuesday night is “more about us confirming what we felt good about against Boston. We’ll be tested. Tampa goes a little deeper in the way they can attack, their first two lines kind of spread out the scoring versus Boston being such a top line leading team.” Brayden Point leads the way with 15 goals, while four others have 11 or more as well.

Krueger confirmed that Linus Ullmark will start in goal for Buffalo. It is the fifth straight start for the netminder, who will try and snap a three-game losing streak along with the rest of the blue and gold.

The Sabres head coach also added that it is a "good chance" that Dalton Smith makes his NHL debut on Tuesday. Smith was signed to a contract by the Sabres on Monday after spending parts of the last three seasons with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League.

It is also expected to see a lineup that will look similar to the group that took the ice for practice on Monday, and that 13 forwards will dress for warmups. Smith was on a line with Curtis Lazar and Evan Rodrigues yesterday.

Tuesday continues a tough stretch against teams from both conferences that have strong offensive presences. The Buffalo bench boss believes that his team “will be tested defensively here, for sure, and need to confirm the defense we’ve been playing of late but need to add to the offense and hoping the power play takes that lead, not necessarily in scoring but in its habits and in the way it executes and performs.” The Edmonton Oilers visit Buffalo on Thursday.

Jake McCabe and the rest of the Sabres have a tough assignment against the NHL’s best power play unit. The Lightning and Oilers are tied with a 29.3% (36-for-123) rate that is nearly three points better than the next closest team.

McCabe knows that “special teams is definitely an area that we need to continue to grow at, our PK’s [penalty kill] been letting us down and I’m a big part of that. I need to be better at that, and we all just need to have the confidence to, you know, trust our instincts.” Buffalo’s 74.4% (90-for-121) penalty kill ranks above three other teams in the league.

The Lightning have won all three meetings between the two clubs this season, including a 5-2 victory at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay on Nov. 25. This season, Buffalo in 4-of-11 in the penalty kill against the Lightning, while Tampa Bay has not allowed a power play goal to the Sabres in eight tries.

Tune in for the Paul William Beltz Pregame Show with Schopp and the Bulldog starting at 6 p.m. from (716) Food and Sport. You will hear more from Krueger, McCabe, as well as Jack Eichel’s thoughts on being selected to the NHL All-Star Game.

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