Busy Tuesday in the NHL with 13 games on the board. We’ll look at the very top of the rotation at game 039/040 as the Minnesota Wild head to upstate New York to take on the slumping Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres started the season in torrid form but their fortunes have experienced a precipitous reversal over the past month. Buffalo has just two wins in their last 10 games going 2-6-2 in that stretch. They’ve been fortunate in that none of the other teams in the Atlantic Division have been in great form either allowing them to hang on to fourth place with 23 points. That’s 2 back of third place Florida, 3 back of second place Montreal and 6 back of the division leading Boston Bruins. Considering how poorly they’ve played things could be much worse in terms of their position in the standings.
The Sabres need a win and they’ve definitely got a beatable opponent in this game. Minnesota has shown some improved play of late but at 7-11-2 for 16 points they’ve got the worst record in the league heading into Tuesday’s action. They’ve gone 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and there’s always a chance that their biggest problem is scheduling. The Wild have shown a very pronounced home/away performance dichotomy over the past few seasons and counting this game they’ve played 14 of their first 21 games on the road. At home, they’re a solid 4-1-2 but away from home they’re 3-10-0. Unfortunately, they don’t get much of a break. They’ll play at home on Thursday hosting the Colorado Avalanche and then it’ll be back on the road for three straight games at Boston, against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and at New Jersey.
Neither team is scoring goals–the Sabres are tied with Philadelphia for the #19 team offense in the NHL scoring 2.90 goals per contest. The Wild are tied with Los Angeles for the #25 scoring offense with 2.65 goals per game. The Sabres are playing decidedly better on the defensive end–Buffalo is #12 in scoring defense allowing just 2.90 goals against per game while Minnesota is #24 giving up 3.45 goals per game. Buffalo has been decent on the power play at #11 scoring on 21.5% of man advantage opportunities. Minnesota is #18 in the league at 17.7%. The Wild has done a good job on the penalty kill ranking #9 in the league at 83.6%. This has been a liability for Buffalo and they rank #26 at 74.6%.
The Sabres area banged up team and will be without Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson here. They’ll also be without forward Kyle Okposo–he’s out indefinitely with a concussion. The Wild have their own injury issues with Marcus Foligno out indefinitely with a lower body injury. Minnesota had a very good run against Buffalo in this building and have won 9 of 12 but the Sabres won both games last season. Buffalo needs a win and given the Wild’s poor play on the road this year they should get one.