In the heat of a playoff race, there will be no better time for the Buffalo Sabres to snap their longest current losing streak against an NHL opponent.
The Sabres have lost seven straight to the Carolina Hurricanes, the visitors tonight at 7 in KeyBank Center. The teams are tied at 58 points, three behind Columbus for the final Eastern Conference wild-card slot. The Blue Jackets, who snapped a five-game losing streak with Tuesday's 6-3 win in Colorado, are in Arizona tonight for a 9 p.m. faceoff.
"We haven't beaten this team since March of 2016 so we're going to be ready," coach Phil Housley said after today's optional morning skate. "The guys in that room understand where we are. It's just one of those things where historically they've had some success against us. We go back to any opponent we play, what we can control is our effort, the way we approach it, our start and all the things that go into the way we can play our game."
Buffalo and Carolina are fifth in their divisions. The Sabres have lost touch with the top three in the Atlantic, as they are eight points behind third-place Montreal. The Hurricanes are just four points back of third-place Pittsburgh in the Metro.
The Sabres are coming off Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win over Minnesota but haven't won back to back games since Dec. 11-13 (Los Angeles-Arizona). They're 0-6 since then in the next game after a win.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. Lineup news: Center Johan Larsson, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, will be back in the lineup tonight. Winger Tage Thompson, with one point in the last seven games, will be a healthy scratch. With only a smattering of players on the ice today, the lines will be uncertain until warmups. Larsson skated at practice Wednesday between Zemgus Girgensons and Vladimir Sobotka.
#Sabres lines during practice:
Thompson is the extra skater, rotating in.
— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) February 6, 2019
Defenseman Zach Bogosian will be playing his 600th NHL game tonight. Two other Buffalo blueliners are also closing in on milestones as Rasmus Ristolainen will play in game 399 and Marco Scandella will play in No. 499
2. In the nets: Linus Ullmark (11-5-3, 2.93/.914) will make his second straight start in goal for the Sabres after making 41 saves against Minnesota, plus two more in the shootout. Curtis McElhinney (12-6-1, 2.37/.918), who posted a shutout Tuesday night in Pittsburgh and earned a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Jan. 11 in Raleigh, will again get the call for the Canes.
It will be Ullmark's second straight start and sixth in the last nine games as the Sabres clearly trend toward making him their No. 1 goaltender.
"He's done a terrific job and he's sort of been dealt some bad hands in back-to-back situations and really risen to the occasion," Housley said. "I really liked how he attacked the game against Minnesota. He was strong. You'd like to get the last one back, but for the most part he's provided some very solid goaltending. I just like his attitude. He comes to the rink with a smile on his face and he's ready to go to work."
3. First-round matchup: The game marks the first Buffalo meeting of Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, the top two picks at last June's draft in Dallas. Dahlin has six goals and 23 assists in 52 games while Svechnikov has 13 goals and 10 assists in 53 games. Dahlin is second in scoring among NHL rookies with 29 points and tied for the lead in assists with Vancouver's Elias Pettersson. Svechnikov is tied for second in rookie goals with Toronto's Andreas Johnsson. Dahlin had two assists in the game in Carolina while Svechnikov did not have a point.
The top three players taken – Dahlin, Svechnikov and Montreal center Kasperi Kotkaniemi – all scored a goal Tuesday, marking just the fifth time in NHL history that had been done in the season immediately following their selection. The feat had not been pulled off in nearly 34 years, since Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh), Kirk Muller (New Jersey) and Ed Olczyk (Chicago) did it on April 7, 1985.
4. Hockey Is for Everyone: The game is the Sabres' annual "Hockey Is for Everyone" Night, the NHL's initiative that promotes the inclusion of players, coaches and fans of every race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, and those with disabilities. Players will use Pride Tape on their sticks during warm-ups in support of the evening and they will be auctioned at Sabres.com/Auctions. Proceeds will benefit The Pride Center of Western New York and Gay and Lesbian Services of Western New York. There will also be Sabres pride T-shirts available for purchase at the Sabres Store.
The team will also be promoting several initiatives in conjunction with Black History Month. Sabres alumnus Val James, the first African-American to play in the NHL, will be joined by the Emerging Philanthropists of Color in Jack Eichel’s suite.
5. By the numbers: Sebastian Aho leads the Canes with 24 goals and 60 points. He has five goals and eight points in seven career games against Buffalo – including the final two goals for Carolina in the January meeting. ... Tuesday's shootout win over Minnesota was the Sabres' 10th of the season after regulation, tops in the NHL. Buffalo is 6-5 in overtime game-deciding goals and 4-1 in shootouts, tied with Tampa Bay (also 4-1) for the second-most wins in the league. The New York Rangers are the leaders at 6-2, including Wednesday's win over Boston. ... The Hurricanes are 0-16-3 when trailing after two periods – the only team in the NHL without a win in that situation. The Sabres are 6-15-2, one shy of Montreal and Calgary for the league lead in wins. ... Eichel has six points in his last three games against Carolina (3-3-6).