Buffalo Sabres vs New York Rangers 3/2/21 Game Preview

Expected Lines

Sabres

Olofsson – Eichel – Reinhart

Hall – Staal – Okposo

Rieder – Eakin – Cozens

Skinner – Lazar – Sheahan 

Bryson – Ristolainen

Dahlin – Miller

Montour – Jokiharju 

Hutton 

Rangers 

Lafreniere – Zibanejad – Buchnevich 

Kreider – Strome – Blackwell

Di Giuseppe – Howden – Gauthier 

Lemieux – Rooney – Brodzinkski 

Lindgren – Fox 

Miller – Smith

Johnson – Hajek 

Shesterkin/Georgiev

News and Notes

Cozens, Bryson, Miller inserted into the lineup.

Rookie Dylan Cozens will re-enter the lineup tonight after being a healthy scratch on Sunday. Cozens said this morning that he skated on a line with Tobias Rieder and Cody Eakin, where he originally started the season.

Ralph Krueger has mentioned throughout the year that Cozens’ workload would be managed given the shortened season and indicated that’s why he was scratched against the Flyers.  

Despite a strong showing the past couple games, Casey Mittelstadt has been loaned to the Sabres’ practice squad and will not play against the Rangers.

Jacob Bryson and Colin Miller will also return to the lineup. Brandon Davidson and Matt Irwin are expected to come out.

Cozens vs Lafreniere Rookie Comparison

Dylan Cozens and Alexis Lafreniere were offensive catalysts for Team Canada’s Gold Medal Victory at the World Junior Championships in January of 2020. Now, the two young players are finding their way in the NHL, playing different roles than when they were relied upon as stars together with Team Canada.

Sabres fans got a close look at Lafreniere in late January when he scored his first NHL goal against them in overtime. Like Cozens though, the former first overall pick hasn’t blown the doors off the scoresheet this season.

cozens laff Buffalo Sabres vs New York Rangers 3/2/21 Game Preview

Cozens has been a bit more sheltered than Lafreniere, playing an average of 13:19 TOI/game compared to the 2020 1st overall pick’s 14:37.

For comparison, top-2 rookie point leaders Kirill Kaprizov and Tim Stutzle are averaging 18:32 (Kaprizov) and 15:40 (Stutzle) TOI/GP respectively. 

It’s unclear how much the condensed schedule has affected rookie seasons like Cozens’ and Lafreniere’s, but last year’s crop of similar rookies should be an indication that this is just the start.

Jack Hughes (NJ) has 12 points in 17 games this season after 33 in 78 during his rookie campaign. Kirby Dach (CHI) came on strong in the 2nd half of his rookie season before being kept out of this one with an injury. Nick Suzuki (MTL) has 14 points in 21 games this season after breaking out in the 2nd half of last.

Like Lafreniere, the point totals haven’t been off the chart for Cozens, but he’s been just about as-advertised given his role. He has an innate knack for where the puck is headed and seems to always be in good position to pounce on the opponent. His skating has translated seamlessly and even in the NHL is well above average.

Anyone watching the Sabres this season would argue that Cozens’ play has exceeded what’s represented on his point totals. The rookie has been a lone bright spot for the Sabres to hang their hat on this season.

Hutton’s Crease?

Ralph Krueger reiterated on WGR550 this morning that Linus Ullmark’s injury will keep him out of the lineup for a minimum of a month. When asked about potentially bringing in another goaltender, Krueger added that, “Goaltending is not the issue here.” 

While the Sabres certainly have bigger issues, it’s hard to find confidence in the goaltending moving forward.

Jonas Johansson played a nice game against the Flyers on Sunday, but the greater sample size doesn’t indicate that he’s an NHL net-minder. Hutton has struggled again this season, currently sitting 58th out of 68 goalies (with at least one game played) in save percentage. 

It may not be wise to sacrifice an asset for a rental, but it’s hard to feel good moving forward as-is.

Show You Still Care

We’re primarily a data-driven brand when it comes to analyzing hockey; there are plenty of others with no interest in contextualizing the numbers who yell about grit and heart if that’s what you’re into. 

But honestly? It would just be nice to see that the Sabres still care. 

There are 37 games remaining — not even halfway through the season — and we’ve already reached a point that the Coach and Captain have no answers. It feels like the team and organization have given up. 

Fans continue to show up and watch what has become a boring, uninspiring, often-embarrassing product every night

Tonight is the first night that Rangers fans are allowed back at Madison Square Garden and one can imagine the type of response the Sabres will garner returning to KeyBank Center in a couple of weeks. If thing’s continue as they are, to borrow a line from Steve Tasker, “Bring your coat, it might be chilly.”

Prediction

It’s hard to find any confidence in predicting the Sabres to win a game right now but this one truly feels like a must-have. 

After this one, the Sabres take on the Islanders in a three game series — a team that’s easily shut them down all season. It’s hard to imagine they find a crack in the Islanders they haven’t found this season so you need two points tonight.

4-3 Sabres in the shootout.

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