It's Trade Deadline Eve and the Buffalo Sabres are hosting the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m. in KeyBank Center. Who will stay and who will go? Here's a more pressing question for you: Who will start in the Sabres goal? Your five things to know for Tuesday's game:
1. Who will start in goal? Dan Bylsma usually opens his game-day press conference by announcing the starting goaltender. Not Tuesday. The lineup will be a game-time decision and he was not prepared to name his starting goaltender.
But Robin Lehner showed up on the ice midway through the pre-game skate then led his team on to the ice Tuesday night reclaiming the starter’s net for the Sabres who hosted the Nashville Predators in KeyBank Center.
“I got cleared late this morning, so I was a little late on practice, but I feel good,” Lehner said after the pre-game skate. “No symptoms in my head anymore, and I felt good.”
Meanwhile Linus Ullmark, who was recalled from Rochester, was the first goalie off the ice, the traditional sign of that night's starter. But when asked if he was starting, Ullmark said "we'll see." Ullmark is is on his fifth recall of the season but has yet to play in a game with the Sabres this season after making his NHL debut last season. In 42 games with the Rochester Americans he has a 20-20-2 record and a .910 save percentage.
"It’s still a good experience, good practices," Ullmark said of his recalls without game action. "It’s always fun to get up here and practice with them. Of course you want to get in there and play but if you don’t you have to have the same mindset. You never now what’s going to happen. You might get a shot next game, whatever. You never know how long the goalie that’s out is going to be. It’s just great fun to always have the opportunity to come up here."
Also on the goalie front is Anders Nilsson, who will become an unrestricted free agent this summer and could be on the dealing block for general manager Tim Murray. Last year Nilsson was dealt at the trade deadline going from Edmonton to St. Louis.
"You try not to think about it too much because it’s out of your control," Nilsson said. "Obviously you can’t control if you’re traded or not traded or whatever. You try not to think about it too much but obviously it’s in the back of your head. Last year I got traded at the trade deadline. I’m familiar with the process.
"I think you kind of have to be good at blocking it out. I mean it’s nothing you can control. There’s no point in wasting energy on that."
2. The trade deadline changes nothing for Bylsma. The Sabres coach said there was no talk of sitting players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer. And while the rumor-mill can make it challenging, he approaches setting his lineup the same way as always.
"I’m sure there’s rumors and I’m sure there’s talk about some of the players. There always is this time of year," Bylsma said. "For us as coaches we’re putting the best guys out there to give us a chance to win. It’s putting them in the right spots and that doesn’t change with rumors or the pending deadline tomorrow.
3. Tweaks are coming to the lines. After losing three straight games, Bylsma is changing up the line combinations, most notably moving Evan Rodrigues to center Marcus Foligno and Sam Reinhart. Rodrigues has goals in his last two games with the Sabres, having played 10 NHL games this season while making the transition from a winger to center.
"Intelligence and hockey smarts is really what's come out," Bylsma said of Rodrigues. "I don’t want to say he didn’t show that before as a winger but it’s just been real evident right from the start of his first game at center. He’s shown a real capability ... of playing on the defensive side positionally, being able to support the puck and jump on pucks and come out of D-zone coverage doing those types of things which has been quite impressive from a guy who up until the 25 games or so he’s played at center in Rochester hadn’t played center for a long time."
The lines at morning skate were:
Justin Bailey-Ryan O'Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Brian Gionta
Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-Tyler Ennis
Defensive pairings were:
Jake McCabe-Rasmus Ristolainen
Josh Gorges-Cody Franson
Dmitry Kulikov-Zach Bogosian
Nic Deslauriers-Justin Falk
4. Nashville's Filip Forsberg is wicked good. The forward was named the NHL's First Star of the Week on Monday after leading the NHL with eight goals 10 points in four games including hat tricks in consecutive games on Tuesday and Thursday. Forsberg leads the NHL in goals since Dec. 19 with 21. He is on a season-high four-game goal streak and a season-high five-game point streak. He has 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in those five games.
5. The Sabres will celebrate women's hockey Tuesday night. To cap off "Hockey is for Everyone" month, the Sabres will acknowledge women's hockey players at the game. From 5-7 p.m. in the 100 Level pavilion area, U.S. gold medalist Shelley Looney will sign autographs along with members of the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League. Also on hand will be Buffalo native Maureen Murphy who won gold with Team USA at the 2017 IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championship.sion in the 100 Level pavilion prior to the game.