Jack Eichel won't be on the ice to help the Buffalo Sabres push back. With Eichel serving a two-game suspension, the Sabres are hosting the Dallas Stars tonight at 7 p.m. in KeyBank Center.
Remember, the Stars (35-28-5), who control the first wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, used brute-force to wear the Sabres down in a 1-0 win in Dallas on Jan. 30. That showed the rest of the NHL that finishing checks is a simple strategy to beat Buffalo (30-29-9).
Eichel spoke passionately Saturday in Denver of the Sabres needing to dish out the same treatment, and his teammates will try to deploy that plan to open this two-game homestand.
"We know the position they’re in," coach Phil Housley said of the Stars following the optional morning skate. "They know the position we're in. We know this team likes to finish checks. They like to play in your face. They don’t give you a lot. I believe they’re third overall in 5-on-5 goals against, so we’re going to have to scrape and claw for everything we get tonight."
1. The lineup: Eichel won't be available to play tonight or Thursday against Pittsburgh as the result of a two-game suspension for his hit on Colorado's Carl Soderberg in Denver.
That led the Sabres to recall Alexander Nylander, who will make his season debut against the Stars. Nylander, 21, had goals in four consecutive games with Rochester prior to the promotion and is expected to skate on a line with Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary.
Oddly enough, Sam Reinhart was moved down to the Sabres' third line, and Jeff Skinner will remain on the top line with Casey Mittelstadt and Jason Pominville. Winger Zemgus Girgensons and defenseman Casey Nelson will be the healthy scratches, with Matt Hunwick drawing into the lineup.
Housley acknowledged there was a conversatin with Nelson about how he responded following Nikita Zadorov's hit on Eichel in Denver but added that the decision was "mainly" about Nelson's recent play.
"I’m not going to get into that," Housley said when asked about Nelson's response. "We had a discussion with him, and we’ll just keep that in house."
#Sabres lines at today’s practice with Eichel suspended:
Girgensons, Nelson, Eichel
— Jason Wolf (@JasonWolf) March 11, 2019
2. Ullmark's net: Linus Ullmark will start against Dallas, despite Carter Hutton having a solid performance against Colorado. Ullmark, who was pulled after two periods in his last start for Buffalo, stopped 26 of 27 shots in Dallas on Jan. 30.
Ullmark, 25, is 16-19-5 with a .912 save percentage this season. Ben Bishop (22-14-2, 2.13, .930) is expected to start in goal for Dallas.
3. Skinner slump: Skinner has not scored a goal in a second-high 11 consecutive games, recording only five assists and a minus-8 rating during that span. With Eichel out, the Sabres could use two big games from Skinner, whose 36 goals are tied for eighth in the NHL.
Skinner is not the only Sabres player slumping, either. Rodrigues has gone 15 consecutive games without a goal and Reinhart has failed to score in six games. The problem goes beyond an inability to put the puck in the back of the net.
"Eichel is such a dynamic player and he’s someone who can take over the game like he did in the third period against us at home, by himself," Dallas coach Jim Montgomery said. "Obviously it would be like us losing [Tyler] Seguin. You lose Seguin, you lose your highest scorer and your player who gets most of your goals and makes most of your plays. With that, in a one-game scenario, we expect to see a high compete level from the Buffalo Sabres."
4. Power-play shakeup: Eichel's absence will disrupt the Sabres' power play, which had at least one goal in five of six games prior to the road trip. Housley overhauled his two units by splitting up Reinhart and Skinner. The former will skate on the top group with Rodrigues, Sheary, Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Skinner is on the second power-play unit with Mittelstadt, Nylander, Kyle Okposo and Brandon Montour.
The Sabres' power play ranks 10th in the league at home, compared to sixth-worst in the league on the road.
5. By the numbers: The Sabres are 2-8 in their last 10 games against the Stars but hold a 56-50-17 advantage in the all-time series. ... Buffalo is 10-4-1 in its last 15 regular-season home games against Dallas dating back to the beginning of the 1995-96 season. The Stars are seeking consecutive wins in Buffalo for the first time since they won three straight from Feb. 7, 1992 to Feb. 13, 1994. ... The Sabres' .636 points percentage at home ranked ninth in the NHL before Monday's games. ... Bishop recorded 31 saves against Colorado on Thursday for his second consecutive shutout and his fifth of the season. He has a 2.13 goals against average and .930 save percentage in 39 games this season.