SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Amid a four-game winning streak that's included poor play for long stretches, Sabres coach Phil Housley made another change to try to address some issues on the blue line.
Defenseman Casey Nelson will replace Nathan Beaulieu in Buffalo's lineup for the 6 p.m. puck drop tonight against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Also, backup goalie Linus Ullmark will start, giving Carter Hutton a night off after he helped the Sabres defeat the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning in a span of three nights.
Nelson was a healthy scratch in each of the last four games after registering a minus-1 rating in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 4. Beaulieu, a plus-6 in 12 games this season, was on the ice for the Jets' second-period goal Friday night and his offensive-zone turnover moments earlier led to another scoring chance.
The Wild, 12-5-2 and fourth in the NHL with 26 points, has thrived this season by capitalizing on similar mistakes.
"They’re a good checking team," Housley said Saturday afternoon. "They take a lot of pride on their checking detail. We’re going to have to manage that. We’re going to have to be ready. Obviously they know we went into overtime and a shootout last night. That’s one thing we have to address and just be ready for that. If we work back as a five-man unit and try to catch them in between with good puck movement, we can get on the attack."
Nelson has two assists and a plus-5 rating in 13 games this season. It's not clear who he'll skate with on the third defensive pairing since the Sabres did not hold a morning skate. After repeated neutral-zone turnovers Friday night, Housley moved Rasmus Dahlin to the top pairing with Zach Bogosian and bumped Marco Scandella down with Beaulieu near the end of the first period.
The Sabres proceeded to outshoot the Jets, 28-14, from the beginning of the second period through overtime. Nelson's proven capable of contributing in Housley's system, and the Sabres are looking for a more conservative approach against Minnesota since this is a back-to-back with only 22 hours between games.
Ullmark will also have the chance to redeem himself after struggling in his last start against the Montreal Canadiens. The 25-year-old allowed five goals on 32 shots before he was relieved by Hutton, who stopped all five shots he faced in a 6-5 overtime win.
Hutton's stopped 54 of the 56 shots in wins over the Lightning and Jets this week. The night off will position him to start Monday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.