DETROIT -- If the Buffalo Sabres want to snap their 0-2-2 skid and start to crawl back into the Atlantic Division race, a game against the Detroit Red Wings may not be the answer.
The Sabres are just 4-18-3 against the Wings in the last 10 years and 1-7-2 in their last 10 trips to Joe Louis Arena. Detroit has 34 points this season, two ahead of the Sabres in the fight to stay out of the division cellar.
The game was scheduled to start shortly after 7:30 but we're told the faceoff is going to be at 7:56. As part of the final season of Joe Louis, the Red Wings are honoring past Stanley Cup champions and there will be a pregame ceremony tonight for the 1997 team. Scotty Bowman, the former Sabres coach and GM who was also the coach of that Detroit title team, was in the building this morning in advance of that ceremony.
The game will be on MSG with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call. Here are five things to know:
1. New Sabres lines: With Ryan O'Reilly out because of an emergency appendectomy, the Sabres are putting Sam Reinhart back at center between Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo. Reinhart has one goal in his last five games but points in his last three.
"Throughout the year, I'm going to play center at some points and I think it helps my game," Reinhart said. "Hopefully I can keep moving my feet and play better playing the middle."
"It's a big opportunity," said coach Dan Bylsma. "Sam has played a handful of games at center ... Sam is going to be a big part in us generating offense, playing offense. He hasn't played a lot for us but he should still be comfortable."
The lines are Foligno-Eichel-Moulson, Girgensons-Reinhart-Okposo, Kane-Larsson-Gionta, Carrier-Grant-Deslauriers.
2. Look for a fast but potentially sloppy pace: The NHL's collective bargaining agreement mandates teams are off from practices and games from Dec. 24-26 so both teams should be fresh tonight even though they may not play as crisply as normal. The Sabres flew here this morning, then held their pregame workout.
"Every team is in the same situation after the break, having three days off," said Bylsma. "Whether you travel or not, or are at home or not, everyone is going to feel the same out there. You have to understand and deal with that right off the hop. We can't expect it to be a perfect painting out there tonight. We've got to execute and play with that in mind. It's always a dirty game.
3. In the nets: The Sabres will start Robin Lehner (7-10-5/2.45/.921) for the sixth time in the last eight games after Anders Nilsson took the loss in Friday's 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn. The Red Wings still start Petr Mrazek (9-7-3, 3.06/.899). He has gone 5-1 in seven career games against the Sabres with a 2.55 GAA and .903 save percentage.
4. Stay away from the shootout: The Sabres' troubles in the post-overtime skills competition have been well documented. They're 1-5 in shootouts, with their shooters (three goals in 15 shots) ranked 25th in the NHL and their goaltenders (only four saves in 14 shots) ranked last.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, lead the league at 5-0. Detroit shooters top the league with nine goals in their 20 attempts (fifth in percentage at 45.0). Their three goalies have combined for 17 saves (second in the league) in 21 attempts and are eighth in save percentage. Detroit forwards Thomas Vanek and Henrik Zetterberg are a combined 5 for 5 and newcomer Frans Nielsen, who is just 1 for 4 this year, is tied for the NHL's all-time lead in shootout goals (43) and game-deciding goals (18).
"Eventually we need to get in a shootout and win," said Bylsma. "We're not going to plan on that. We get into that 3 on 3, we're going to try to make that shootout another time down the road."
5. Special teams slogging: The Detroit power play (11.9 percent) and the Buffalo penalty killers (74.3 percent) are both terrible, sitting last in the league. A breakthrough by either could make a big difference in the outcome. The Wings are 0 for 26 on the man advantage in their last six games, 1 for 37 in the last 11 games, and 3 for 55 in the last 17 games.