CHICAGO -- No team worth its salt is going to take the Buffalo Sabres lightly because nobody wants to blow the two points there to be taken against the NHL's worst team. The Chicago Blackhawks figure to be particularly focused Friday night in United Center as they try to break a five-game losing streak -- their longest in six years -- against a Buffalo team they've defeated 11 straight times.
The Sabres, meanwhile, are coming off Tuesday's 4-2 win in Colorado and trying to forge just their second two-game winning streak of the season. Faceoff is at 8:30 on MSG and WGR Radio 550.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1 .Two struggling teams: The Sabres are 7-17-4 on the season and just 2-9-2 over their last 13 games. The Blackhawks are just 12-11-5 and sit sixth in the seven-team Central Division, which they won last year and have placed no lower than fourth since drafting South Buffalo native Patrick Kane No. 1 overall in 2007.
"We've got to get oursevles back on track here, " Kane said today. "Get that good feeling going again and get into the win column."
"They're in a bit of a rut right here and reading the comments in the paper, they're talking about playing with more desperation, being tougher to play against especially in the offensive zone," said Sabres coach Phil Housley. For us looking at that, we have to be ready to play tonight when the puck drops because they're going to try to feed off the energy of their crowd."
2. Desperate times: Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford has missed three games with a lower-body injury and was slated to return Sunday against Arizona but that timetable has been moved up. Crawford took the morning skate Friday and will start against Buffalo's Robin Lehner.
Coach Joel Quenneville was asked point-blank today if the Hawks' situation in the standings accelerated their timetable with Crawford.
"It's a good question. I'm not sure," Quenneville admitted. "But if he's ready to play and passes all clearances it's up to us."
Crawford, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, is 11-7-2 this year with a 2.29 goals-against average and .930 save percentage -- but he's 8-0 lifetime against the Sabres with a 1.86 GAA and .929 save percentage.
3. Two struggling man-advantage units: The Buffalo power play is 30th in the NHL at 11.2 percent and is 0 for 29 over its last 10 games. The Hawks are 29th at 15.5 percent and just 1 for 21 in their last five games. For those scoring at home, that's a combined 1 for 50 in their last 15 games.
For their part, the Sabres feel they're getting closer as they're getting plenty of shots through from the point. They had nine shots on goal on the power play Tuesday in Denver and may use Evan Rodrigues at the point on one unit tonight.
"I think he might get an opportunity," Housley said. "His game is in a good spot right now. I really like what he brings to our team, sort of gives us that balance throughout our lineup."
4. Lineup news: Kyle Okposo sat out the morning skate for the Sabres as a maintenance day but will play tonight. He's believed to be nursing a hand injury. Zemgus Girgensons and Josh Gorges are expected to be healthy scratches for the second straight game. The lines will stay as they were Tuesday in Denver.
#Sabres Kane-Eichel-Pominville, Pouliot-ROR-Fasching, Wilson-ErOd-Girgensons, Nolan-Larsson-Reinhart.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) December 8, 2017
5. Numbers games: The Sabres are 0-9-2 overall in their last 11 against Chicago and on an 0-5-1 skid here. Their last win here was a 2-1 victory on Jan 10, 2007 -- more than five months before Kane was drafted. ... Kane in 13 career games vs. the Sabres has eight goals and seven assists. He scored the overtime winner to beat the Sabres here last season ... Lehner has never played the Hawks in Chicago; he's 0-2, 3.52/.908 against them, losing one game in Ottawa and dropping a 5-1 decision to the Hawks in February in Buffalo. ... The Hawks are outscoring opponents, 31-23, in the first period. The Sabres are getting drilled in the first period, 27-13.