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All things considered, the Buffalo Sabres are the league’s worst team in every aspect. Seems like an easy (though purposeless at this point in the season) win, yes? Technically, the Devils already won the season series versus the Sabres, beating them 4-1 in their first matchup. The second was a 2-1 shootout victory. In both games, four out of the five goals the Devils scored against the Sabres in regulation, came in the first period. Patrik Elias is sidelined tonight with back spasms, a noteworthy absence the Devils will have since Elias scored both times the Devils played the Sabres this year. Barring any activity in the first period, we might be in for a relatively bland, uninspiring matchup between two teams that should already be thinking about next year if they already aren’t.
Offense…Despite the wealth of youthful potential the Sabres’ offensive lineup contains, they utilized the trade deadline to flush out any remaining veteran forwards on the team that wouldn’t be back next year anyway. Buffalo’s top scoring forwards (Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta), have combined for only 50 goals this year, and all but Gionta have scored at least once over their last five games. It doesn’t look like Girgensons (lower body) will be in the Sabre’s lineup tonight either, who’s been out since the end of last month, and is one of several Sabres who have succumbed to injury as of late. Based on the offense alone, the Sabres appear like a stepping stone-type win for the Devils to create the illusion there’s still life to their playoff aspirations. Let’s keep in mind the Devil’s 28th-ranked offense is just two places ahead of the 30th-ranked Sabres.
Defense…The Sabre’s defense, like the rest of the team, underwent some notable roster modifications as the trade deadline approached. In the wake of injuries dealt to players like Zach Bogosian, and Josh Gorges, up and coming youngster Rasmus Ristolainen has been awarded a significant amount of playing time. Along with Mike Weber, Andre Benoit, and Tyson Strachan, these four players will likely carry the bulk of ice time that’s distributed amongst Buffalo’s defense tonight. The coaching staff continues to tentatively use Nikita Zadorov, and Chad Ruhwedel, who’s only appeared in two contests going into tonight.
Goaltending…I suppose by default, Anders Lindback will inherit the reins as Buffalo’s starting goaltender, and will likely face off against Devil’s rookie backup Keith Kinkaid. Lindback’s season has been nothing short of a travesty this season, posting an overall record of 3-11-2, surrendering three or more goals in ten of those contests. He hasn’t fared much better since coming to Buffalo, recording his first win with the team this past Tuesday, and going 0-3-2 in his first five starts as a Sabre. Considering he hasn’t faced fewer than 32 shots in a full game as a Sabre, Lindback is certainly doing everything he can to play his part as the season approaches its conclusion. Although he’s coming off an admirable 44-save performance against the Bruins, the Devils are a relatively unfamiliar opponent that he’s only faced four times (2-2-0), and will have what can only be described as the weakest lineup playing in front of him that he’s ever had to work with in a game against New Jersey.
Who to watch
Johan Larsson…He’s one of Buffalo’s most overlooked forwards that’s produced as of late, getting three goals in his last five games and seven points in his last eight. The 22-year old Swede’s ice time has steadily increased over that stretch, where he’s gone from just 13 to over 20 minutes of ice time. While only two goals out of his seasonal point total have come at home this season, he’s been getting on the score sheet against teams with varying skill levels, from teams in the league’s basement and playoff bubble teams, to pre-established playoff contenders. He could very well fly under the radar tonight if the Devil’s become too preoccupied in trying to contain Buffalo’s established veterans like Moulson, Gionta, and Ennis.
Damon Severson…He appears to be returning to the form he was in prior to being sidelined back in December. Although he hasn’t scored a goal since October 25th, Severson’s had three assists in his last four games, averaging well over 20 minutes a night. There’s no denying the positive (or coincidental) impact Severson’s return has had on the team’s record, having gone 5-1-1 over that stretch. Severson and his defense partner Jon Merrill have been an effective pairing, and if they don’t put up points tonight, they definitely will be noticed doing those little things that don’t show up on the score sheet.
What to watch
With or without Cammalleri…Recent reports have surfaced that left wing Mike Cammalleri has become a game-time decision after leaving practice early due to some sort of ailment. The Devils have won four out of 12 games they went without Camalleri this season, which is a testament to how much he means to this team.
Where to watch
When to watch