The defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks are in town to meet the Sabres at 7 Tuesday night in KeyBank Center and it's a matchup of teams heading in opposite directions. The Sharks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games while the Sabres are 1-3-1 in their last five and have slipped back into a tie for last place in the Eastern Conference with Tampa Bay.
Here's a look at Five Things to Know about the game, which will be televised on MSG.
1. Lineup card − Anders Nilsson (8-7-4, 2.60/.923) will be in goal tonight for the Sabres against San Jose starter Martin Jones (27-15-3, 2.19/.919). Nilsson has been dynamite at home this year (6-1-1, 1.84/.946). Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said his lineup will be a game-time decision. Bylsma seemed to leave open the possibility of a recall of Derek Grant from Rochester this week, although noting the Sabres are at the full complement of 23 players. Still, they could put the injured William Carrier or Zach Bogosian on injured reserve to create a spot for Grant, reclaimed on waivers Monday from Nashville.
Said Bylsma: "With the number of games we are playing, there will be a time when we need some help."
2. Feeding on the Sharks − There is no logical explanation for the way the Sabres have dominated the Sharks over the years. None. Zero. Let's just put the numbers here and you try to figure it out. Buffalo is 23-6-6 against San Jose all time − including 16-2 here. The Sabres are 9-0-1 against the Sharks in the last 10 meetings. The Sabres, by the way, are 9-4-2 against the West this year but just 12-17-8 against the East.
Said defenseman Jake McCabe: "We're not a team that can go chance for chance. We find success against the West a lot because they play a heavier style of game, chip pucks in and get on the forecheck. I don't know if we almost mimic it but we understand the need to get pucks in as well. We play that heavier game too. Against the East that likes to run and gun, we have to stick to our game plan."
Amy Moritz visited the Sharks' dressing room today and here's her update:
3. Troubles on the penalty kill − The Sabres are 29th in the NHL on the PK at just 73.9 percent and gave up both goals in Monday's 2-1 loss in New Jersey while shorthanded. They're only 6 for 9 in their three February games.
"Every game it seems like it's a different thing and that's what's frustrating," McCabe said. "It's not one thing you can fix. It's a collective group effort where everyone needs to be sharper. ... The last couple of months it's fallen off and it's frustrating. I take a lot of pride in it because that's one of my areas where I contribute to this team. Being out there for two goals last night is unacceptable."
4. More numbers games -- Sharks defenseman Brent Burns is tied for third in the league in scoring with a remarkable 55 points, including an NHL-high 22 goals for defensemen. According to Elias, he's the first defensman in history to score a goal in eight straight road games ... The Sabres are 5-0-1 in their last six at home. They don't have points in seven straight home games since a 7-0-2 run in 2012 ... The Sabres are now last in the league in shots on goal allowed at 33 per game. The number is 38.2 over the last seven games ... The Sharks are 12th in shots attempts (30.2) and third in shots allowed (27.2).
"Their top players have been together for a long, long time," McCabe said. "They know what's expected of each other and trust what their teammates are supposed to be doing. To have a defenseman score over 20 goals is pretty incredible. You have to keep an eye on Burns, get our forwards to get a bump on him."
5. It's You Can Play Night − As part of the NHL's "Hockey is for Everyone" month, the Sabres will be hosting a night in support of for inclusion, acceptance and respect of LGBTQ athletes in sports. Nilsson has worn pride tape on the back of his mask and is the player spokesman for the event. Gay & Lesbian Youth Services and the Pride Center of WNY will have tables set up in the 100 Level pavilion. Some Sabres players will be using Pride Tape on their sticks during pregame warm-ups in support of the evening. Each stick will be auctioned online at sabres.com/auctions beginning at 9:30 p.m. A video feature on Buffalo Beauts forward Harrison Browne will be shown on the scoreboard during the game.
"It's a great program for the league," said Bylsma, who will be part of a video message played during the game. "They've embraced and encompassed it, that the game is a great game for all orientations regardless of who you are and what you are. It's a great inclusion that we have and I'm happy that Anders is showing that."