Game Preview: Sabres vs. Lightning
The red hot Sabres (5-1-1) head to Tampa Bay tonight to face off against the newly recharged (get it?) Lightning (3-3-2).
Tampa Bay is fresh off of a Thursday night win over the San Jose Sharks. The Lightning’s coach Rick Tocchet did a fair amount of line shuffling in an attempt to energize the lowly team. Prior to the win against the Sharks, the Lightning were outscored 11-2 in their two previous games. Tonight marks the first game of a four game home stretch for the Lightning so they should be excited and ready to play at home.
The Sabres are coming off of a decisive 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers last Wednesday night. Buffalo exploded in the early minutes with 4 goals in ten minutes and then added another goal a few minutes later. Although the Panthers responded quickly, they couldn’t find their offensive spark and mount a comeback. Outside of the first period, the game wasn’t exactly exciting. The Sabres made good use of their new gritty forwards with goals from Mike Grier, Matt Ellis and Tyler Myers. The Sabres should try to continue their gritty play tonight while attempting to spark some offense.
In order for the Sabres to take advantage of the Lightning (and they can), they should pepper the net with shots. Both Antero Nittymaki and Mike Smith are playing very average right now. Nittymaki has a decent GAA of 2.70 but Smith is averaging 3.68 goals against a game. This game should also showcase a battle of young, hot shot defensemen. Last year’s second overall pick Victor Hedman is playing pretty decent with 4 assists for 4 points. Buffalo’s young defenseman Tyler Myers has 2 goals – one of which came last game – and 3 assists in his rookie campaign. It should be interesting to see these two square off.
Patrick Kaleta: Honestly, who doesn’t love Patty K.? He’s the man. He hits. He pisses people off. He scores goals. He makes plays. He retrieves cats from trees for old ladies. He is all that and a bag of gluten free chips. Honestly, though, Kaleta has been a semi-silent force as of late. He picked up an assist last week on Matt Ellis‘ goal. He is also a plus 4 right now so good things tend to happen when he is involved. If Kaleta keeps up his offensive production as a compliment of his physical play, he will be quite an asset to this team.
Everyone: Ok, not everyone is hot. That being said, a good chunk of the team is. The Sabres have eight players that have more than one goal. This team is not being carried by one player. MacArthur and Vanek are leading the scoring but only by two goals with Myers, Connolly, Grier, Stafford, Pominville and Kaleta all behind with two goals. We’ll see what happens tonight against Tampa’s inconsistent D-Men.
Steven Stamkos: Remember Stamkos? He’s from the same draft class as Tyler Myers. Stamkos is starting live up to his massive potential. He scored two goals against San Jose last game and has scored 6 goals in 8 games this season. That’s very impressive for a sophomore. Stammer will try to take advantage of the young Sabres defense, especially Butler who sometimes makes poor decisions against high profile players. Stamkos has recorded a point in every game this season with the exception of one game.
James Wright: Wright, a rookie, scored his first career goal on the opening shift of Thursday’s game against San Jose. Wright has been moved up to the top scoring line as part of Coach Tocchet’s line movement. Wright wasted no time in taking advantage of this move by scoring early. Wright will try to extend his time with veterans Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis by playing intense, passionate hockey. Only time will tell if he does.
Craig Rivet: The Sabres Captain has yet to record a goal this season. Although he is not a goal scorer, the Sabres need Rivet to contribute in every facet of the game. He has no goals and only two assists thus far. Also, he only has two penalty minutes. It’s good to avoid the penalty box but sometimes high PIM means a player is playing with heart and passion. Rivet is this type of player. He takes penalties because he plays intense hockey. Not so much so far.
The Sabres Penalty Kill: Although the Buffalo penalty kill allowed only one goal on seven attempts last game, the Sabres PK hasn’t been the greatest. Actually, the PK is ranked 24th. Ew. The Sabres need to step it up on the kill if they want to continue to win games. Enough said.
Vincent Lecavalier: Vinny has no goals yet this season. I repeat, NO GOALS. He Vinny fricken Lecavalier! He is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know he has seven assists but still. Come on man. He is probably the driving force behind Tocchet’s line shuffling extravaganza. Now that he has been paired with long time lover/soul mate Marty St. Louis, Lecavalier should blossom on the first line.
Alex Tanguay: Seasoned veteran Alex Tanguay also has yet to notch a goal this season. He has two assists but thats really it. One of said assists came on the powerplay (woo hoo!) but other than that, Tanguay has been fairly non-existent so far this season. He could be quite an asset to the somewhat young Tampa squad. If Tanguay can find his scoring touch he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Mike Smith is expected to be in net tonight for Tampa. He is coming off of a pretty solid win over the Sharks allowing only 2 goals on 34 shots. Smith can be deadly if he is on his game. However, he can also psyche himself out and has been known to have poor outings.
Ryan Miller should get the nod tonight for Buffalo. He is playing consistently well and has yet to have a very poor game. Miller has only allowed a total of 10 goals this season. The Sabres will try to go to Miller as much as possible over the coming weeks because we have five straight back-to-back games in the next five weeks. Every single back-to-back will occur on a Friday and Saturday. Miller will be crucial during these stretches.
Fun Fact!: Steven Stamkos netted the first goal of his NHL career last season in the first meeting between the Lightning and the Sabres on October 30th, 2008. The Lightning 2-4-2 against the Sabres the past two seasons.
The games starts at 7:30 and should be on MSG.