Sabres look to head into the break with a win over Nashville

Buffalo is looking for its third straight road win and fourth win in a row

Paul Hamilton
January 18, 2020 - 2:40 pm
Jack Eichel

Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel - USA TODAY Sports

Nashville, TN (WGR 550) - The Sabres are on a good streak recently, picking up 10 out of 14 points, yet all they’ve been able to do is keep up in the standings.

Buffalo trails Toronto by six points for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and is five points back of Philadelphia and Columbus for the final Wild Card spot.

To even get to those spots, the blue and gold still needs to leapfrog Florida, which is four points in front of the Sabres.

Saturday is the Sabres' last game before a 10-day break. Buffalo has won three straight games and two in a row on the road. Part of the reason for that is Saturday’s starting goalie Linus Ullmark. He’s finally starting to make the big save when his team needs it.

Ullmark has played 16 of the last 18 games and is 5-1-0 in his last six. He’s allowed 12 goals and has a save percentage of .929.

Scott Wilson and Colin Miller won’t play. The final healthy scratch will come after the pregame warmup.

Nashville fired head coach Peter Laviolette on Jan. 6. The reason is the Predators are in sixth place in the Central Division, six points out of a Wild Card spot.

Under former New Jersey coach John Hynes, the Preds are 2-3 and have lost two straight games. Ralph Krueger said that there are differences in the way they play, “There’s definitely a transition going on, but we have so much respect for the balance of their forward group because it’s one of the strongest in the league. There’s a reason why they’ve been deep into the playoffs two years in a row.

“Changes in their game are not dramatic, but every coach will bring his own personality with him and hopefully we kind find opportunity in the transitional phase that they’re in.”

Defenseman Ryan Ellis has been out since Jan.1 when Corey Perry was suspended for elbowing him to the head. Krueger said Nashville feels that loss, “Ellis out is definitely a big loss for them, which means Ekholm and Josi are playing multiple minutes, but they are top-end defensemen playing those minutes."

Roman Josi averages 25:53 per-game, which is third in the NHL. He also leads Nashville in scoring with 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points in 46 games.

Ekholm averages 23:17, but he’s been above that in six of the eight games that Ellis has missed. That includes two games over 27:45.

The Sabres beat the Predators in Buffalo, 4-3 back on Dec. 12.

July 1 free agent signings are mostly tire fires, and Nashville’s signing of Matt Duchene hasn’t worked out as of yet. The former Avalanche forward has 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points in 44 games.

I think the surprise for Nashville is how poorly Pekka Rinne is doing. This season his save percentage is .896 and his goals-against average is 3.02. Rinne has lost five of his last seven games, but he did score a goal in that streak. 

These two teams are 21st and 22nd in the NHL when it comes to points percentage.

Krueger said there’s a chance that Jeff Skinner could be back with the group when they comeback from the break.

Join Brian Koziol for the pregame starting at 7:00 when he’ll be joined by Krueger, Sam Reinhart, Paul Reinhart and Bob Eichel.

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