DENVER — A quick shuffling of the defense pairs is on the docket today as the Buffalo Sabres play a 3 p.m. game against the Colorado Avalanche in Pepsi Center. As usual, it's on MSG and WGR Radio.
With the Sabres facing two of the NHL's top seven scorers in Colorado winger Mikko Rantanen (85 points) and center Nathan MacKinnon (84), they will be pairing Rasmus Dahlin with Rasmus Ristolainen on their top pair today.
In his pregame briefing, coach Phil Housley said Marco Scandella will move alongside Casey Nelson after spending the last few games with Ristolainen while the pair of Zach Bogosian and Brandon Montour will stay intact. Matt Hunwick and Tage Thompson will be scratches.
#Sabres in warmups:
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 9, 2019
The Avalanche are facing a major loss today as captain Gabriel Landeskog (36-33-69) is out with an upper-body injury, believed to be to his shoulder, suffered in Thursday's 4-0 loss in Dallas when he collided with goalie Ben Bishop. Landeskog is likely to be out 4-6 weeks, so his season could be over if the Avs don't make the playoffs.
While the Sabres' playoff hopes are basically gone with the team 10 points out of an Eastern Conference wild-card, this is a huge game for Colorado. The Avs are just four points back of Minnesota in the West and holding a game in hand.
"Sometimes when somebody comes out of the lineup, the desperation becomes even more apparent. We understand that," Housley said. "They've tried to spread their lines around a little bit to find some balance so we really have to be aware when MacKinnon and Rantanen are on the ice. … They like to play with speed, attack, bring their 'D' to get involved in the rush. Our rush coverage has to be good today.
— Adrian Dater (@adater) March 8, 2019
The Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line has been one of the NHL's best this season but the remaining two members of the trio may be broken up today. In practice Friday, MacKinnon skated with Derick Brassard and former Sabres prospect J.T. Compher while Rantanen was with Carl Soderberg and Colin Wilson.
The series: Colorado posted a 6-1 victory over Buffalo Oct. 11 in KeyBank Center and a Sabres win today will give the teams a split of the season series for the fourth straight year. The Sabres won here last year, 4-2, and it snapped a six-game losing streak in Denver that dated to 2005. Buffalo is just 3-9-4 overall in its last 16 meetings with the Avs since 2007.
Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 of 31 shots in the October win in Buffalo, improving to 7-2-1, 2.30/.922 in 10 career games against the Sabres but Philipp Grubauer is getting the start today and has been dominant against Buffalo, going 4-1-2, 1.30/.954 against the Sabres
Carter Hutton, who made 41 saves Thursday in Chicago, will start today for the Sabres.
Something to note after 60 minutes today: The Sabres are 11-9 past regulation this year, including a 7-6 mark in overtime goals -- while the Avalanche are just 3-12 and are 2-11 when a goal is scored at 3 on 3. As you would expect, that's the worst record in the NHL as no other team in the league has dropped more than eight games in the five-minute session.
So if this one is tied, the strategy is going to have to be attack, attack and attack some more. And late in regulation, the Sabres might be a tad more conservative to simply get the game to OT and then take their chances there.
"We're not going to get that matchup we want to start out so we're going to have to plan accordingly," said Housley, referring to the Avs having the last change at home. "We're definitely going to have to be aware when MacKinnon is out there. He's incredibly fast and he creates. You try to match up with the speed element of the game."