Sabres Projected Lines:
Victor Olofsson – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner – Marcus Johansson – Vladimir Sobotka
Jimmy Vesey – Casey Mittelstadt – Conor Sheary
Zemgus Girgensons – Johan Larsson – Kyle Okposo
Jake McCabe – Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Dahlin – Colin Miller
Marco Scandella – Henri Jokiharju
Rangers Projected Lines:
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Kaapo Kakko
Artemi Panarin – Ryan Strome – Pavel Buchnevich
Brendan Lemiuex – Brett Howden – Jesper Fast
Brendan Smith – Lias Andersson – Greg McKegg
Marc Staal – Adam Fox
Libor Hajek – Jacob Trouba
Brady Skjei – Tony DeAngelo
Keys to the Game
#1. Unleash the offense
It is no secret that the Rangers have been a horrible 5v5 team this year. They are dead last in the league in expected goals for %, shots for %, and corsi for %. The Rangers 38.5 xGF% is the worst in the league by a significant amount. They give up 3.25 expected goals against per 60 minutes which is dreadful. Basically, the Rangers are set to be one of the worst teams in the league this year, largely because they are bad defensively.
The Sabres have to exploit the Rangers poor defensive structure and try to pile on the goals. They must build off of their solid offensive performance last game and continue to build confidence. The Rangers may not be a good team, but the Sabres cannot fall asleep at the wheel. Just stick to their game and a win should come their way.
#2. Improve zone exits
There are so many moments where the Sabres really struggle to get the puck out of their own end. They have a number of defenseman who are very strong with zone exits (Jokiharju, Dahlin, Miller) and a number of defenseman who are not so great (McCabe, Ristolainen, Scandella). Two of the defenseman who are not so great in this aspect of the game also happen to lead the team in 5v5 ice time. This problem is somewhat subdued because they are often paired with Reinhart and Eichel, who are both adept at exiting the zone with possession. But, it’s still not ideal to have two defenseman out on the ice together who are mediocre transition players, especially if they are put in high leverage situations. We saw the problems this can create with San Jose’s 2nd goal on Tuesday, where the duo failed to properly clear zone allowing the Sharks to attack the offensive zone with speed and numbers.
#3. The Mittelstadt line
Casey Mittelstadt has been amazing in overtime this season and his smart decision making on Tuesday helped lead the Sabres to a victory. His line’s play during 5v5, however, has left something to be desired. It is really important for this line to start producing some offense. They have managed to generate some nice offensive opportunities throughout the season, but they have just been wildly inconsistent. There are some nights where this line is a complete non-factor on offense. These next two games against weaker opponents provides this line with a great opportunity to get things rolling. Mittelstadt has all of the tools to be a great center in this league and we have seen some flashes of his brilliance in recent games. This line could very well be the piece that helps push the Sabres over the top.