After four games out of town, the Buffalo Sabres are in KeyBank Center for the first time in 11 days Tuesday night with a matchup against the reeling Ottawa Senators.
The Sabres have points in eight straight games against Ottawa, going 6-0-2. They were 4-0-1 against the Sens last season, a year that saw Ottawa advance all the way to Game Seven of the Eastern Conference final.
Tonight's opening faceoff is shortly after 7 p.m. on MSG and WGR Radio 550.
Here are Five Things to Know about the first of four meetings this season:
New lines: Coach Phil Housley got some traction from some line shuffling in the third period Sunday in St. Louis and it looks like he's starting tonight's game with a similar setup. It means Benoit Pouliot gets a chance on a wing with Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons plays with Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane (one goal in nine games despite 34 shots on goal) drops down to play with Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart.
"I really likes the way he brings speed and he's really hard on the forecheck," coach Phil Housley said today of Kane, who is enduring his first scoring slump of the season. "Defensively, just a little bit more awareness and paying attention to that detail of his game. Because when he does it, we can come out of our end and get on the forecheck where he's really at his strength. I really like his shot mentality. I wish there were more guys who had more of it."
Hudson Fasching played just 6:47 in St. Louis and will be a healthy scratch. The defense scratches will remain Victor Antipin (healthy) and Nathan Beaulieu (flu). Beaulieu, who missed all three games on the trip, is back skating with the team.
#Sabres going with some 3rd period combos at STL: Pouliot-Eichel-Pominville, Girgensons-ROR-Okposo, Kane-ERod-Reinhart, Wilson-Larsson-Nolan
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) December 12, 2017
In the nets: Red-hot Robin Lehner will make his fourth straight start for the Sabres after stopping 125 of 133 shots on the team's three-game trek through the Central Division. Lehner is 6-12-4 with a 2.91 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. But against the Senators, the team that drafted him and brought him to the NHL, he is 4-0-2, 1.30/.959. The Sens, meanwhile, are going to alternate for a fourth straight game with backup Mike Condon getting the nod. He's 2-2-4, 3.28, .902.
Struggling Sens: The Senators were 8-3-5 on Nov. 11 after sweeping both games against Colorado in the teams' mini-series in Stockholm, Sweden. Since then, their season has collapsed with a 1 -9-2 record that includes 1-4-1 on the seven-game road trip that wraps up here tonight. Ottawa has been shut out in three of its last four games and outscored, 17-3, in that span. The Ottawa media is rife with discussion about potential trades that could be made prior to the holiday roster freeze.
"No matter what you do, I think that everybody can feel the tension, everything that's going on, all the talk around us," star defenseman Erik Karlsson said here today. "That's part of the business and something you have to learn how to deal with."
Too many Ls in OT: Both teams have struggled mightily past 60 minutes, with Ottawa at 2-7 and Buffalo at 1-6. The Sabres are 1-5 in overtime-deciding goals, and the Senators are 0-3. The Sabres dropped their last two in OT, at Chicago and St. Louis, and Housley said after Sunday's loss to the Blues that his team needs to adopt a better puck-possession mentality in 3-on-3 play. Ryan O'Reilly agreed with that notion today.
"We have to find a way to hang on to the puck better and not give it away," O'Reilly said. "But in those OTs, we were a little nervous about playing the best teams in the league too and sat back a little too much instead of skating more to create that traffic and cause them to feel uncomfortable. It's a lesson for us."
Numbers games: Buffalo is 3-9-1 at home, tied with Arizona for the fewest home wins in the league. ... Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has taken over the NHL lead in ice time at 27:20 per game. He's averaging 29:59 over the last four. ... The Sabres are just 3-11-3 against the Eastern Conference while they're 4-6-3 against the West. ... Bad team numbers: The Sabres are just 1-9-3 when they're outshot, 2-13-1 when the opponent scores first, 1-11-1 when trailing after one period and 1-14-2 when trailing after 40 minutes.