SUNRISE, Fla. – The Buffalo Sabres have a streak going. A losing streak.
It's exactly what they couldn't have at this time of the year and it's come against two teams, the New York Rangers and New Jersey, that are not in the playoff hunt. But the Sabres were drubbed by a combined 10-3 score against those two clubs over the weekend to fall further into the abyss when it comes to the postseason picture.
Another non-playoff team is on the docket for tonight as the Sabres meet the Florida Panthers in BB&T Center in a 7 p.m. game on MSG and WGR Radio.
The Sabres canceled their morning skate today, like many visiting teams do here. Most stay on Fort Lauderdale Beach and that's about a 40-minute drive from the rink, which is on the edge of the Everglades. It doesn't make much sense to do that twice on game day, so many teams don't take morning twirls around the rink here.
Coach Phil Housley met the media just before 5 p.m. and provided lineup updates. Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. What's left of the playoff race: Sam Reinhart's dissent aside Sunday night, the Sabres are just about toast in the wild-card hunt unless they put together a winning streak we haven't seen since mid-December. They're six points behind Pittsburgh and Montreal, and five points behind Carolina. They're tied with Philadelphia and a regulation loss tonight would bring the Panthers within three points of Buffalo.
Everybody is playing tonight, with Montreal hosting Columbus, Pittsburgh at New Jersey (see if the Pens lay an egg there), Carolina hosting the New York Rangers (ditto on egg-laying against the Blueshirts) and Philly hosting Tampa Bay.
Team GP Pts
PIT 59 69
MON 59 69
CAR 59 68
BUF 58 63
PHL 59 63
FLA 57 58
2. Panthers have bite vs. Buffalo: The Sabres snapped a seven-game losing streak against Florida with a 4-3 win Jan. 3 in Buffalo, but have dropped five straight in Sunrise – and have scored just nine goals in the five games. In fact, the numerous Buffalo fans who make the trip here rarely see any offense from their favorites in the building. The Sabres have scored just 19 goals in their last 10 games here while going 1-8-1, and haven't scored five goals in any game here since a 5-2 win on Oct. 21, 2009.
A win tonight would give the Sabres back-to-back wins over Florida for the first time since they won three straight in 2011.
The Panthers posted a 3-2 overtime win here on Nov. 30 on an Aleksander Barkov goal, and their five straight home wins over Buffalo are their most since joining the NHL in 1993. Florida is 8-4 in its last 12 games, including Sunday's 6-3 win over Montreal. That game was highlighted by Barkov's spectacular between-the-legs goal against Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
3. A dilemma on defense: Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian both took maintenance days from practice on Monday and Housley said they will be game-time decisions, although he didn't seem too concerned about their availability tonight. Matt Hunwick (lower body) is going to sit as Housley said the team is being cautions with his ailment.
Meanwhile, Casey Nelson is back with the club off his conditioning assignment in Rochester and you would think Housley & Co. would want to get him back in the lineup. Lawrence Pilut is minus-6 with no points over his last seven games and his spot in the lineup could again be tenuous.
4. Back to Ullmark in goal: The Sabres will go with Linus Ullmark in net tonight as he is 1-0-1 vs. the Panthers this year while Carter Hutton lost his only meeting.
Goalie Season Vs. FLA career
Ullmark 13-6-4, 2.98/.910 2-1-0, 2.03/.933
Hutton 15-17-3, 2.84/.909 2-1-1, 2.98/.917
Florida veteran Roberto Luongo, who has been stellar in his career against the Sabres (20-9-2, 2.02/.932), left the team Sunday to tend to a death in his family and has returned but James Reimer will make his third straight start tonight. Reimer is 12-10-5, 3.05/.901 for the season. In his career against Buffalo, he's 11-4-2, 3.09/.905.
5. By the numbers: Jason Pominville is expected to appear in his 713th regular-season game with the Sabres tonight, which would pass Alexei Zhitnik for eighth place on Buffalo's all-time list. ... Barkov leads the Panthers in goals (22) and points (57) while Jonathan Huberdeau has a team-high 40 assists to go with his 53 points. The Panthers have four 20-goal scorers in Mike Hoffman (26), Barkov, Frank Vatrano (20) and Evgenii Dadonov (20). The Sabres, of course, have only one as Jeff Skinner's 36 goals are four shy of NHL leader Alex Ovechkin. ... These teams work a lot of overtime and shootouts, with Buffalo at 10-7 and Florida at 9-8. ... The Panthers' power play is third in the league at 25.9 percent while Buffalo's road penalty kill is just 23rd at 78.5 percent. ... Until his hat trick Sunday against the Habs, Barkov had just two goals in his previous 15 games.