Sabres Projected Lines:
Victor Olofsson – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner – Marcus Johansson – Vladimir Sobotka
Evan Rodrigues – Casey Mittelstadt – Conor Sheary
Zemgus Girgensons – Johan Larsson – Kyle Okposo
Jake McCabe – Rasmus Ristolainen
John Gilmour – Colin Miller
Rasmus Dahlin – Henri Jokiharju
Coyotes Projected Lines:
Clayton Keller – Christian Dvorak – Phil Kessel
Michael Grabner – Derek Stepan – Vinnie Hinostroza
Barrett Hayton – Nick Schmaltz – Conor Garland
Lawson Crouse – Carl Soderberg – Christian Fischer
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Jason Demers
Jakob Chychrun – Alex Goligoski
Kyle Capobianco – Ilya Lyubushkin
3 Keys to the Game
Coyotes Defensive Game
Arizona comes into this game winning 5 of their last 6 and are tops in the league from an xGA perspective per NaturalStatTrick.com. A by product of this is that they also have the highest xGF% in the league at 56.22% vs. Buffalo’s 50.18% (16th ranked). The D group that Arizona has assembled is made up of good skating and offensive minded players so it’s not a surprise to see them ranked where they are regarding this stat as they are consistently controlling play and keeping it out of their zone.
This D group is headlined by Oliver Ekman-Larsson who has 2 goals and 4 assists in 10 games this year and averages 24:53 TOI per game. A fantastic skater with great offensive abilities, he’s a danger any time he is on the ice and will give Buffalo fits if he’s allowed space with the puck.
Over the last 2 games, the Sabres have scored a total of 4 goals, 3 of which have been at even strength. Scoring at 5v5 needs to pick up if this team is going to sustain some of the success they’ve had this first month of the season and it all starts with the top line. The time is coming where Krueger will need to shuffle lines to get more production at even strength and if the offense can’t generate chances and goals then his hand will get forced sooner than later.
Fortunately, secondary scoring has showed up for the Sabres this season and is a huge reason for their hot start (9-2-1). Out of their 28 even strength goals scored this season, only 7 have been potted by the 1st line (Eichel-4, Reinhart-3) so the balanced scoring is very refreshing after years of lines 2-3 not producing. Tonight feels like a night where Eichel puts the team on his back as the Sabres return to Key Bank Center for the first time in nearly a week.
Strong 3rd Period
A recent trend in their victories has seen the Sabres sit back a bit and protect the lead. When their 3rd period CF/CA numbers are combined over the last 3 victories, they have lost the battle by a count of 20 to 44 (31.25%). Granted the shot quality by their opponents hasn’t been stellar, it’s the sheer volume of shot attempts they’re giving up with a lead in the 3rd period that is concerning and impacting their expected goal differential numbers.
Without being in the room it’s difficult to determine if this is by design or just the other team pressing more and Buffalo not being able to handle it. It would be nice to see them bounce back from some weak 3rd periods lately and put together a strong period if they are in fact in the lead headed into the final 20 minutes. Ideally they keep the pressure on and close out the game on their terms as opposed to riding out the storm which is asking for trouble.