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Lightning at Sabres: Five Things to Know

The Buffalo Sabres had little time to analyze what went wrong Friday night in Carolina. They had to take a late flight home and arrived at KeyBank Center early Saturday to prepare for the hottest team in the NHL.

Puck drops between the Sabres (23-15-6) and Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at 7:05 p.m. The two teams last met Nov. 29, when Buffalo's 10-game winning streak was snapped with a 5-4 loss at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning (34-8-2) have a 12-point lead over Toronto for first place in the Atlantic Division and have gone 17-1-1 over their last 19 games. They have a plus-58 goal differential this season -- for context, Buffalo is plus-3 -- and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 road games.

Tampa Bay is on pace for 130 points this season and no NHL team has recorded at least 125 since Detroit in 1995-96. Yet, the Lightning view this as a budding rivalry.

"This is turning into a bit of a rivalry," Tampa Bay center J.T. Miller said. "These are easy games to get up for. We're all excited to get another crack at these guys."

Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:

1. Lineup: Coach Phil Housley told reporters there will be no changes to his lineup, meaning the healthy scratches are defensemen Matt Hunwick and Nathan Beaulieu, and winger Remi Elie.

However, it remains to be seen if Housley will make any changes to his lines.

Center Jack Eichel was admittedly rusty early against Carolina, though he seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on. Housley again changed his lines for the third period Friday, reuniting Eichel on the top line with Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart after Tage Thompson struggled in the second period.

"They've developed some chemistry this year that's tough to handle," Tampa Bay defenseman Braydon Coburn said of Eichel, Skinner and Reinhart. "They have top-end skill all over their line. They're putting the puck in the net. You have to make sure you pay them special attention."

2. Goalie change: Linus Ullmark will start tonight against Tampa Bay after Carter Hutton lost Friday in Carolina. Ullmark, 25, is 9-2-3 with a .924 save percentage this season, most recently a 20-save performance in a 5-1 win over New Jersey on Tuesday.

Backup goalie Louis Domingue will start for Tampa Bay, which is saving Andrei Vasilevskiy for a Sunday night game against the New York Islanders. Domingue is 15-4 this season with a .904 save percentage and allowed four goals on 22 shots against Buffalo in Tampa Bay on Nov. 29.

"It's a tremendous challenge for us," Housley said of facing Tampa Bay. "We get another crack at it after a big game and playing the best team in the league. There's not a lot of motivation you need right now to play this team. ... We have to play a full 60 minutes tonight."

3. Special teams: The Lightning's power play is ranked first in the league at 30 percent and their penalty kill is tied for eighth. Though the Sabres' penalty kill is tied for third, they continue to struggle on the power play.

Housley pointed to Rasmus Ristolainen's first-period penalty Friday night as a turning point against Carolina. Though Buffalo's penalty kill is 43-for-47 over the past 17 games, untimely penalties have often stifled momentum.

The Sabres can ill afford to spend time in the penalty box tonight. Nikita Kucherov has a team-high 27 power-play points for Tampa Bay and Steven Stamkos has 21, including 12 assists.

"We've been consistently getting points," Coburn said. "I would say our consistency has been sporadic at times, but our special teams have been really good. We keep trying to grow our game as the season moves along here."

4. Firepower: There is little doubt that Tampa Bay has the most talented, deep roster in the NHL. Kucherov leads the NHL in assists (51) and points (72). Center Brayden Point has a team-high 28 goals, four off the league lead, and is sixth in the league in scoring with 60 points. Stamkos has 23 goals among 49 points and Tyler Johnson has 18 goals among 33 points.

They have nine players with at least 20 points, while Buffalo has only five. Housley is urging his players to have a better response in key moments during close games.

"It's coming," Housley said. "We've been in some tight games before and we seemed to be comfortable. It's just lately we're trying to force the issue. Guys are trying to make plays. They want to make a difference, but for the most part making a difference is just making the right play."

5. By the numbers: The Sabres are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games against the Lightning and hold a 55-37-8 all-time series lead. However, Tampa Bay is 8-2-1 against Buffalo since the start of the 2013-14 season. ... Buffalo is 5-2-2 against the Atlantic Division at home this season. ... Reinhart has already set career highs in total assists (31) and multi-point games (13) this season. The Sabres are 17-5-4 this season when he has at least one point and 28-4-6 in his career when he has at least two points. ... With his 211th goal as a Sabres player Friday in Carolina, Jason Pominville has tied Alexander Mogilny for 11th-most in franchise history and now trails Don Luce by five goals.

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