There are games that are challenges and then there are games that are Challenges and note the capital letter there. That's what the Buffalo Sabres face Monday night in KeyBank Center when they take on the defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators. Faceoff is at 7 p.m. and the game will be on MSG.
The Preds are atop the Presidents Trophy race with a 47-14-10 record and 104 points, two more than Tampa Bay. They are 13-0-1 in their last 14 games, tying the franchise record for longest point streak. They've won eight straight road games and are 11-0-3 in the last 14 away from home, both franchise records as well.
Here are Five Things to Know about the season's lone visit by the team many people feel is the favorite to win the Stanley Cup come June:
1. It's Linus time in net
The Sabres are going with Linus Ullmark in goal tonight, giving him his second NHL start of the season. He won his first, making 44 saves in a 3-1 win Jan. 11 over Columbus.
"I think it's going to be great for him," coach Phil Housley said today. "We knew we were going to give him some games down the stretch here and what better game to get a challenge than from Nashville? I think he did a terrific job the first time he stepped in against a good Columbus team. ... He's got to get comfortable, play his game, be in control of his own game and see where he takes us."
"It's always nice to play some games. It's going to be a lot of fun," said Ullmark, who has 20 wins this year in Rochester. "There's a reason why they're on top of the standings and have already clinched a playoff spot. ... It doesn't matter which team we play. All teams are good in this league. Doesn't matter if it's Nashville, Toronto or Columbus. They're all good."
2. The rest of the Sabres' lineup
Kyle Okposo is back after missing three games with a concussion. Zemgus Girgensons, who was injured Saturday against Chicago, is out. Josh Gorges and Victor Antipin will be scratches on defense. Chad Johnson will back up Ullmark as Housley said Robin Lehner is banged up and taking a maintenance day.
Housley is keeping the built-in-Rochester line intact of Evan Rodrigues between Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste.
#Sabres in the AM
D: Scandella-Ristolainen, Guhle-Falk, Nelson-Beaulieu, Antipin-Gorges
G: (Lehner not here). I'm guessing Ullmark gets start vs. #Preds We'll see.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 19, 2018
3. No sweet music against Nashville in Buffalo
The Sabres are just 1-6-4 at home all-time against the Predators since Nashville joined the NHL in 1998, with the only win an 8-4 victory on Feb. 27, 2008. Since then, Buffalo is 0-3-3 downtown against the Preds -- including last year's 5-4 overtime loss that saw the Sabres blow a 4-2 lead in the third period. Oddly enough, the Sabres are 8-4-0 in Bridgestone Arena and have won their last two visits.
4. Housley meets his old team
It's the first meeting for Housley against the Preds, the team he was an assistant on the last four seasons and helped get to last year's Stanley Cup final.
"Phil is going to do a great job here," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said here today. "He's a smart guy, a good coach. He's passionate. He cares. He knows what he's talking about. It's not always built overnight. Sometimes it takes time. You can tell by the way they're playing now, the record in the last 20 games (9-9-2) and the fact they're beating some quality teams that they're turning things in the right direction."
5. Nashville's numbers are eye-popping
The Predators have an NHL-best 14 players with 10 or more goals (led by Viktor Arvidsson's 26) and eight players with 40+ points (Arvidsson has 53 while Filip Forsberg and P.K. Subban have 51 apiece). ... Starting goalie Pekka Rinne (39-9-4, 2.25/.929) is 20-1-1, 1.98/.936 in his last 22 games and can tie his personal best of 11 straight wins with a victory tonight. ... The Predators are 35-3-5 when scoring first, 19-2-3 when leading after one period and 42-3-5 when leading or tied after two periods. Their one weakness is overtime, where they're just 10-10. ... Nashville has an NHL-best 145 goals at 5-on-5 and is plus-36 (The Sabres, conversely, are minus-41). The Preds are plus-15 in the first period and plus-28 in the second, behind only Tampa Bay's plus-33. The Sabres are an NHL-worst minus-30 in the middle period.