On paper, Tuesday night's game for the Buffalo Sabres looks like an uphill battle, to put it kindly. The Sabres aren't far off from their worst start in franchise history. Their opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are off to their best start in franchise history.
But games aren't played on paper. They're played on ice by players with human attributes. And the Lightning have lost their last two games after all. So here's the skinny on tonight's matchup between the Sabres and Lightning with puck drop scheduled for 7:05 p.m. in KeyBank Center:
1. Tampa Bay has the best power play in the NHL. They lead the league in power-play conversions at 26.7 percent and are second in the NHL in power-play goals with 24 (two behind Pittsburgh). The Lightning have scored a power-play goal in their last three games. The power play has been a strength for Tampa Bay over the past two years. Since the 2016-17 season, the Lightning are tied with Pittsburgh with 86 power-play goals.
2. The Sabres have the second-worst power play in the NHL. The Sabres are 0 for 15 on the power play in the last six games, which is part of the reason the team is on a 1-6-2 slide. Buffalo is 10 for 75 with the man advantage this season (13.3 percent), including just 4 for 38 at home (10.5 percent).
3. The Lightning are off to a franchise-best start. Through 23 games, Tampa Bay is 16-5-2, its best start in franchise history and two points better than the 32 points they put up through 23 games in the 2014-15 season (15-6-2). Some other scary good stats for Tampa Bay: the team ranks first in the NHL in goals per game (3.70) and goal differential (plus-24) while ranking second in wins (16) and goals (85).
But the Lightning are slumping, losing their last two games. So does that mean the Sabres are catching them at a good time? Or is bad since Tampa Bay will be upset from losing?
"Well I don't know how to answer that," Sabres coach Phil Housley said with a slight laugh after his team's pregame skate in KeyBank Center Tuesday morning. "You know I'm sure they respect us as an opponent. You look at any team at any point in the season can beat anybody. You know they've lost the last two, so I'm sure they're going to be addressing some situations in their locker room, but we can only control what we can control."
4. Matt Moulson is back in the lineup. After Seth Griffith cleared waivers and was assigned to Rochester, the Sabres were left with just 12 forwards. That means Matt Moulson ends his six-game stint as a healthy scratch on Tuesday.
Moulson will be playing on a line with Kyle Criscuolo and Zemgus Girgensons.
"I just want to see a good compete level in his game and trying to bring some speed," Housley said. "Obviously he's going to get an opportunity on the power play tonight. Just do what Matt Moulson does well. He's a sniper. He can tip pucks. He can create offense. He can make the next play. I'd like to see that from him tonight."
The lines remain the same from Monday's practice. Jack Eichel will center Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart; Ryan O'Reilly centers Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Okposo; and Johan Larsson is between Jordan Nolan and Jason Pominville.
5. So. No. Bogosian. Zach Bogosian is still sidelined with the lower-body injury that has kept him out of the lineup all season. Bogosian took morning skate and was one of the last Sabres off, along with healthy scratch Josh Gorges and backup goalie Chad Johnson.
"He's not going to play tonight,"Housley said. "I really like the progress that he's been making. … We wanted to be cautious with this injury. He looks really good out there, but I just feel with one practice and a pregame skate, he just needs more time."
The Sabres defensive pairings were:
Marco Scandella-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Victor Antipin
Nathan Beaulieu-Justin Falk