Get ready for some heavy hockey. That's what you can expect Saturday night in KeyBank Center as the St. Louis Blues hit town to meet the Buffalo Sabres. The Blues are 31-19-3 and third in the rugged Central Division, just four points back of first-place Winnipeg and two behind defending Western Conference champion Nashville.
This is St. Louis' annual fathers' trip and it opened with the dads seeing Thursday's 3-1 loss in Boston. Prior to that game, St. Louis had won five of its previous six (although the loss somehow came at home to last-place Arizona).
The Blues can't afford to fritter away points tonight because their schedule is brutal for the next 10 games: Two games with Nashville, Winnipeg and Minnesota as well as matchups with Pittsburgh, San Jose, Colorado and Dallas.
Here are Five (more) Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. Having lots of Blues against St. Louis
The Sabres have won just three of their last 25 games against St. Louis since Jan. 27, 1998, posting a 3-16-4 record with two ties in that span. Conversely, St. Louis is 20-3-0-2 against the Sabres.
The Sabres did, however, break an 0-8-1 slide against the Blues nearly a year ago with a 3-2 victory here on Feb. 18, 2017. St. Louis won this season's other meeting, a 3-2 overtime victory Dec. 10 in Scottrade Center on a goal by Vladimir Tarasenko.
2. Stuck on 999
The Sabres will be making their fourth attempt to get the 1,000th home win in franchise history. They are 6-14-3 at home this year (counting the Winter Classic loss to New York) and have dropped three straight downtown after beating Columbus on Jan. 11 for win No. 999.
The Sabres showed plenty of anger at the tail end of Thursday's 4-2 loss to Florida and coach Phil Housley said today that he hopes this game starts like the last one finished.
"You have to play this game with emotion and we have to to start that way," Housley said. "This is our building. We've got to be able to come out and establish a forecheck and being tough to play against. I really liked the response in the latter part of that game. Not because of the scrums but because finally came with emotion."
For those wondering, the Sabres won 581 games in Memorial Auditorium and have won 417 games in KeyBank Center. Their other "home" win was the 2011 game against Anaheim played in Helsinki, Finland. (Numbers courtesy Hockey-reference.com)
3. In the nets: Robin Lehner vs. Carter Hutton
Lehner continues to lead the NHL in losses with an 11-19-6 record, in spite of a 2.85 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. He had a career-best shutout string of 145 minutes, 15 seconds snapped in his last start, Tuesday's 3-1 loss to New Jersey.
Hutton, who played in Nashville when Housley was an assistant coach for the Predators, has taken the St. Louis starter's job away from Jake Allen and put up glittering numbers. Check them out:
Overall (season): 13-4-1/1.70/.945
January (overall): 7-1-1/1.73/.943
Road (season): 5-1-1/1.78/.941
Allen is 1-9 in his last 10 decisions but made 43 saves in Thursday's 3-1 loss in Boston.
4. Lots of lineup news
Nathan Beaulieu is back in the lineup after missing four games following a concussion sustained by going chin-first into the ice Jan. 21 in Calgary. Justin Falk and Josh Gorges are expected to be the healthy scratches on defense. Nick Baptiste and the suspended Johan Larsson will sit up front, with Evan Rodrigues and Benoit Pouliot moving back into the lineup.
Beaulieu has one goal and three assists in 33 games, a huge drop from his career high of 28 points last year in Montreal.
"For him, it starts from our own end out," Housley said. "Just his defensive reads and positioning and knowing who's around him and boxing out and doing a good job defensively. We all know what Nate brings offensively. His skating mobility, his puck mobility, being able to join in the rush, part of our five-man offensive scheme. It starts from the simple reads, coverage and being sound defensively."
Rodrigues has two goals in 22 games -- and both were in the third period of the game in St. Louis.
"Once you take a step back, sometimes it's good just to realize what got you up here and what got you in the lineup," Housley said. "When he did get in the lineup back in Colorado, he provided some good urgency in his game. He had a couple goals in St. Louis. I think he's just got to get back to that. His game slipped a little bit. He realized that. He's got to have more attitude and bring some urgency to his game."
5. Lots of talent on the other side
Standouts Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo missed the first meeting with Buffalo due to injury and both are back tonight. Schwartz, who sat out 20 games after taking a shot to the foot, has 36 points in 33 games while Pietrangelo leads the St. Louis defense with eight goals and 35 points.
Throw in Tarasenko (21-26-47) and leading scorer Brayden Schenn (21-30-51) and you've got some elite talent to deal with.
"They're really good players. You have to play your game," said Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. "You learn the players like that from going against them a few years in the league. You have to get on these guys quick and take their time with the puck away before they get going.
"It's a great team, a big team. They play heavy, smart and simple. They don't give you much. It's a real good challenge for us."