The Buffalo Sabres have points in six straight games against the Pacific Division and will look to extend that streak tonight with the Arizona Coyotes in town for a 7 p.m. game in KeyBank Center (MSG, Radio 550).
Buffalo is 5-0-1 in its last six against the Pacific, keeping that run alive with Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win over Los Angeles. The Sabres are 7-2-1 for the season against the Pacific, their best mark against any division. That figure includes the 3-0 win on Oct. 13 in Gila River Arena, the night of Rasmus Dahlin's first NHL goal and Linus Ullmark's first NHL shutout.
(For the record, the Sabres are 6-3-2 vs. the Atlantic, 3-2-1 vs. the Metropolitan and 2-2-0 vs. the Central).
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. Back in the nets: Carter Hutton (12-8-1, 2.60/.917) will return to start in goal tonight after a three-game absence. He has not played since the Dec. 3 loss at Nashville and Ullmark has made four of the last five starts overall, going 1-1-2, 3.86/.888, with numbers inflated by Saturday's 6-2 loss to Philadelphia. Arizona is dealing with a potential season-ending injury to starter Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper (4-6-2, 2.82/.909) will be in the net tonight.
"Carter brings a lot of energy and passion every day to the game," coach Phil Housley said today. "His work habits and work ethic speak a lot about who he is. ... The way he communicates within our group has been invaluable. To top it off, he's played some really solid hockey for us so that all adds up to good things. "
2. The rest of the lineup: The Sabres did not take a morning skate today so any tinkering with forward lines or defense pairs will be revealed during pregame warmups. Housley did say he would field the same lineup as he did Tuesday against Los Angeles, meaning Remi Elie will be a healthy scratch and Marco Scandella will remain out. Housley said Scandella remains day to day and is progressing, with the hope that one more practice can have him ready to play on this weekend's road trip to Washington and Boston.
3. Shortie alert: The Coyotes lead the NHL with an astonishing 11 short-handed goals (the Sabres, by the way, have none). Arizona is actually plus-3 while shorthanded for the season because it leads the league in penalty killing (90.6 percent) and has only given up eight power-play goals. On the road, the Coyotes are at 91.7 percent (33 of 36).
"They pressure hard. They play like a 5-on-5 mentality when they're short-handed," Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said today. "We've got to be ready to support each other. If we get a couple of quick one-time touch passes, we can get great looks. I have to make things happen, find the right guy."
"We just need to think of what we have to do and not think too much about their PK," added Rasmus Dahlin. "We go out there, do our thing and hopefully we can score some goals."
4. More on the Arizona PK: The Coyotes became the seventh team in NHL history to post 11 short-handed goals through 26 games and the first since Philadelphia in 2008. Michael Grabner (4), Brad Richardson (3), Derek Stepan (2) and Lawson Crouse (2) are just the third set of teammates in NHL history with two or more shorties through 26 games, joining the 1988 Edmonton Oilers and 1993 New York Rangers.
Arizona is plus-3 on its PK (11 short-handed goals, 8 PPG against). The Coyotes were plus-5 on 12 different days in November, the first team in NHL history to get to that point when comparing short-handed goals to power play goals.
"It is extraordinary. It says a lot about that group," Housley said. "They're taking a lot of pride in it and now they have confidence within it that they can take that extra play, extend it, get on top of it and force things, which will frustrate the other team. We'll have to take what's given and simplify it."
5. Around the boards: The Sabres are 13-3-1 in their last 17 meetings with Arizona. ... The win over Los Angeles improved the Sabres' record to 6-7-2 this season when trailing after two periods. That tied for the NHL lead for wins in that category – until Wednesday night, when Calgary got two goals in the final 67 seconds of regulation and a Johnny Gaudreau goal 35 seconds in overtime to beat Philadelphia, 6-5. The Flames improved to 7-9-2 when trailing after 40 minutes. There are 12 teams in the NHL with zero or one win in those spots. ... After a four-game winning streak that included road wins at Minnesota and Nashville, the Coyotes are on a three-game losing streak after close losses to Washington (4-2), San Jose (5-3) and Boston (4-3). ... Arizona is thin up front, with Grabner (upper body), Vinnie Hinostroza (lower body) and Alex Galchenyuk (lower body) all on the injured list. ... Tonight is the 10th anniversary of the 10,000th goal in Sabres history, a tally by Thomas Vanek in a 4-2 win at New Jersey on Dec. 13, 2008.