This was supposed to be another memorable homecoming for Ryan Miller, but a sprained MCL will prevent the former Buffalo Sabres goalie from returning to KeyBank Center.
Though Miller's absence removes some nostalgia, this will be an intriguing matchup between his Anaheim Ducks teammates and the Sabres tonight at 7 p.m. The Ducks, 19-13-5, are in third place in the Pacific Division and have lost two in a row after winning nine of 10 games.
The Sabres, meanwhile, have lost two in a row, most recently a 2-1 loss in Washington on Friday night, and will have much to correct entering the holiday break. Still, they are third in the Atlantic Division with 45 points and have not played meaningful hockey like this since Miller was in goal.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. The lineups: With this being another back-to-back, the Sabres did not hold a morning skate. Jason Pominville is on injured reserve and did not play Friday in Washington after he collided with Rasmus Ristolainen in the third period against Florida on Tuesday.
Pominville skated again Saturday and is getting "close" to returning, according to coach Phil Housley. With Pominville out, Remi Elie will be in the lineup again. Linus Ullmark, who has a .915 save percentage and only one regulation loss in 12 games this season, will start in goal for Buffalo.
Anaheim was off Friday, which will allow John Gibson to start in goal. Gibson has a .926 save percentage and 2.54 goals-against average in 30 games this season. In addition to Miller, Anaheim is without Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves and Cam Fowler.
Coach Randy Carlyle's lines looked like this during a 3-1 loss in Boston on Thursday:
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) December 21, 2018
2. Paging everyone else: The top line's point streaks all came to an end Friday night and no one else could pick up the slack. Johan Larsson scored to tie the game, however, the Sabres received little help from their bottom three lines.
Casey Mittelstadt has one goal in his last 13 games. Kyle Okposo has one goal in his last 22 games. Conor Sheary has not scored in 16 straight games. Vladimir Sobotka has not scored in 20 straight games.
Sure, Buffalo has one of the best top lines in the league. Since Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart began playing together on Nov. 13 against Tampa Bay, the Sabres have gone 11-5-3. One of those three has scored in all but two of the team's 19 games during that span.
But you could argue that Larsson's line has been the Sabres' second-best group over the past two weeks. That's a problem. Housley did not have a morning skate or practice to make more changes to his forward lines, but he could tinker again if the problem persists.
3. Two of a kind: The Sabres' six wins this season when trailing after two periods are tied for second-most in the league, but Anaheim has also made a habit of rallying late in games. The Ducks have trailed in eight of their last 10 wins, including four in which they were down by multiple goals.
They trailed or were tied during the third period of nine of those 10 wins and rank third in the NHL with 12 comeback victories this season, trailing only Tampa Bay and Winnipeg. That includes six wins when trailing after two periods. Anaheim has accomplished that despite having a negative-11 goal differential and only three teams have scored fewer goals this season: Los Angeles, Arizona and Carolina.
4. The series: This is the second of two meetings this season between the Sabres and Ducks. Buffalo won, 4-2, when it visited Honda Center on Oct. 21, and the Ducks have won two straight games in Buffalo. Anaheim has also posted a 15-17-5 all-time record against the Sabres.
5. By the numbers: The Sabres are 11-3-5 in one-goal games this season and last won more than half of its one-goal games in 2011-12. ... The Sabres are 8-5 in games that have been tied after regulation this season, including a 5-4 record in overtime and a 3-1 record in shootouts. Their five overtime wins have already matched their overtime win total from last season (5-10) and their three shootout wins are the team’s highest total since 2014-15 (8-5). ... This is the eighth of 16 sets of back-to-backs this season for Buffalo. It is 4-1-2 in the second game of back-to-backs this season. ... Reinhart has 31 points -- eight goals with 23 assists -- in his last 29 games, including a career-high 11 multipoint games. ... Eichel’s 17 multipoint games rank third in the league this season, one behind co-leaders Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado.