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Five Things to Know as Sabres host Tampa Bay Lightning

It's the best team in the NHL versus the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Here are Five Things to Know as the Buffalo Sabres host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.

1. Tough challenge

The Lightning lead the NHL with 79 points from a 38-15-3 record. They had a two-game winning streak snapped Monday with a 4-3 loss in Toronto.

Tampa won, 2-0, in Buffalo on Nov. 28. It continued a run of absolute dominance. The Lightning have won five in a row over Buffalo and are 15-2-1 since the start of the 2013-14 season.

There's certainly no home-ice advantage for Buffalo. Tampa is 8-0-1 in the last nine games in KeyBank Center. It has won the last six, outscoring the Sabres, 19-5.

"We realize what we're up against, but it's a great challenge for us," Sabres coach Phil Housley said after the morning skate. "We've beaten good teams before, and that's the way we're going to take it."

2. Going with Johnson

The unenviable task of facing the Lightning will go to Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson. He won his last start, stopping 25 of 27 shots in Saturday's 4-2 victory in Boston.

Johnson is 3-9-3 with a .886 save percentage. All three victories came on the road.

"I’d love to get on a run," Johnson said in KeyBank Center. "I’d love to get like two, three, four, five, 10 games in a row. I always find it’s a little bit easier that way.

"I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been given a leash longer than two games. If you lose one or two, it usually means I’m sitting for a little bit. So I feel like I’ve always had to kind of earn my starts."

Tampa Bay leads the NHL with 3.55 goals scored per game. The Sabres (16-30-10) are last at 2.36.

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3. Shake them up

With Jack Eichel on the sidelines, Housley will again alter his line combinations. Here were the four lines during the morning skate:

Benoit Pouliot-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Evander Kane-Evan Rodrigues-Kyle Okposo
Scott Wilson-Johan Larsson-Jason Pominville
Zemgus Girgensons-Jacob Josefson-Nick Baptiste

Jordan Nolan will be the healthy scratch after playing in six straight games. Josh Gorges will sit on defense as the pairings will be Marco Scandella-Casey Nelson, Nathan Beaulieu-Rasmus Ristolainen and Justin Falk-Victor Antipin.

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4. Killing by scoring

The Sabres' short-handed unit has become one of the team's most potent offensive weapons. The Sabres are tied for the league lead with nine short-handed goals, including five in the last eight games. They scored two during Sunday's 5-4 loss to Colorado.

"We like to pressure a lot up ice, and we get bounces sometimes," Pouliot said. "The main thing is to not play in our own zone on the PK, not let them set up."

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5. This and that

Reinhart has four goals, 10 assists and 14 points in his last 12 games. … Kane and Pouliot have goals in the last two. … Buffalo has at least one power-play goal in 11 of the last 15 games, scoring 14 times for a 31.1 percent success rate. … O'Reilly has six goals and 14 points in the last 11 home games. … Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov scored his 30th goal Monday, joining Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos as the only Lightning players to score 30 or more in three straight seasons.

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