Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals Game Preview 1/22/21

Expected Lines:

Buffalo Sabres

Hall – Eichel – Reinhart
Olofsson – Staal – Thompson
Rieder – Eakin – Cozens
Skinner – Lazar – Sheahan

McCabe – Ristolainen
Montour – Jokiharju
Dahlin – Miller

Ullmark

Washington Capitals

Vrana – Backstrom – Wilson
Panik – Eller – Oshie
Hagelin – Dowd – Hathaway
Sprong – Pinho – Sheary

Dillon – Carlson
Siegenthaler – Schultz
Chara – Jensen

Vanecek

News and Notes:

Balance on the Blueline

For years, Sabres Twitter has clamored for many Sabres coaching staffs to reduce Ristolainen’s minutes. These chants have gone ignored for the most part but through the team’s first four games of the year, Ristolainen’s average time on ice is almost down 4 minutes from his career average.

The current average ice time per game for each defender is listed below with Even Strength time in parenthesis:

Dahlin – 21:05 (17:27)
Ristolainen – 20:42 (17:20)
Montour – 20:33 (19:42)
McCabe – 17:31 (16:02)
Miller – 17:03 (15:58)
Jokiharju – 16:45 (15:52)

As shown above, there is a fairly even distribution of even strength ice time between all 6 defensemen on the team. Given the results thus far from an analytics perspective, this type of deployment seems to be working and hopefully a trend that continues into the season.

Ullmark Playing With a Heavy Heart

After missing the previous two games for personal reasons, Linus Ullmark opened up about his absence and had Sabres fans expressing their deepest sympathy for the 27 year old netminder.

Slated to start in the first game against Philadelphia this past Monday, Ullmark learned of the passing of his father back in Sweden. Understandbly so, Ullmark took time away from the rink to process this devastating life event.

I know that I speak for everyone on The Charging Buffalo staff that we send our deepest condolences to Linus and his family during this difficult time.

The Numbers are Still Good

The numbers for the Sabres continued to look good and backed up what we all saw in the previous game against the Flyers. The 3-0 score was not indicative of how the Sabres played as they fell victim to a flawless Brian Elliott who stopped all 40 shots he faced.

As per Seat Tierney’s xG rates, the Sabres are headed up and to the right of the charts, which is a great sign. Their ability to control the play and create scoring chances has led to this movement.

Per Natural Stat Trick, the Sabres have the 3rd best xGF% in the league but the 19th ranked actual GF%. There’s definitely arguments to be made about just how accurate xG numbers are but given how this team has played at Even Strength the last 3 games, some regression to the mean is expected and the wins should follow.

Capitals Outbreak

Shortly after the Washington Capitals were fined $100,000 by the league for violating COVID protocols, it was announced that four notable players were placed on the COVID list. Given the league policies, it is expected that these players, Ovechkin included, will miss the next 4 games.

The absence of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Orlov, and starting goaltender Samsonov (confirmed positive test) is a huge opportunity for the Sabres this weekend to capitalize on playing a weakened Capitals team. Sitting with a 1-3-0 record, the door is wide open to pick up 4 points and re-insert themselves back into the mix in the East.

Eichel and Skinner Scoring Slump

It’s not often that Eichel or Skinner go 4 games without scoring, let alone at the same time. The two forwards are still looking for their first goals of the season and are currently 1st (Skinner – 14) and 3rd (Eichel – 11) on the team in shots on goal.

Ironically, both players were involved in a 2 on 0 last game that didn’t end up in the net. As Ben also pointed out on Twitter, Skinner is 5th in the NHL in individual expected Goals For at 5v5 despite playing on the 4th line.

While Eichel has been able to pick up 6 assists through 4 games, Skinner is still without a point. The quick forward is getting his share of chances and should find the back of the net very soon.

Prediction

The 1-3 record is not indicative of how the team has played overall through the course of the 4 games.

With Ullmark returning to the net tonight, look for the family in front of him to play a strong game against a shorthanded Capitals team.

TCB says: 5-2 Buffalo with Eichel, and Cozens scoring their first goals of the season.

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