WINNIPEG – It's the final game of the road trip and the first game of March. The first point is a good thing for the Buffalo Sabres, but recent history says the other point is not.
There's been a lot of March sadness in Sabreland in recent years. Playoff hopes are dashed yet again and the only playoff races the Blue & Gold will see will be the ones involving their opponents.
There's a big one today in Bell MTS Place as the Winnipeg Jets are currently tied with Nashville for the second wild card in the West and are one of five teams within three points of each other. Winnipeg is just 1-3-1 in its last five games but the win was a 3-0 shutout over Washington here on Friday night.
In the nets: In a pick-your-poison choice between veteran Carter Hutton (12-12-4, 3.18/.898) and rookie Jonas Johansson (1-2-1, 2.68/.899), the Sabres are going with Hutton tonight. The duo has combined for an .890 save percentage on the trip as the Sabres have lost all three games. Not remotely good enough. Still, Hutton has a glossy .973 save percentage in his last five games against the Jets and has strong career numbers against them (5-5-1, 2.02/.935). The Jets will counter with Connor Hellebuyck (27-21-5, 2.67/.919).
The lineup: Ralph Krueger is finding chemistry and synergy – one of his favorite words – on the forward lines and they will remain intact from what they were on Saturday night in Arizona. Victor Olofsson practiced Monday and looked fine after his ugly-looking leg injury Saturday in Arizona.
Krueger said Lawrence Pilut will play tonight, making his first appearance on defense since Feb. 9. The scratches will be Colin Miller and Michael Frolik.
Pilut, who skated with Rasmus Ristolainen in practice on Monday, has no points and a minus-4 rating in 11 NHL games this year. He has six goals, 17 assists and a plus-4 rating in 37 games in Rochester.
"He definitely went back to Rochester with a list of things to work on. It wasn't a big list," Krueger said. "Having games down there and working with the coaching staff made it clear – kind of like the experience with Curtis Lazar up and down a few times – coming back to be more focused on the skill set he needs to bring into our group.
"Especially his game away from the puck defensively, we find him extremely strong in being able to read the game. His first pass and initiating our offense is something we'd like to see from him today."
The #Sabres forward lines stay status quo at practrice:
Girgensons-Larsson-Okposo.... Frolik was working in
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 2, 2020
Top line troubles: Jack Eichel's team-high numbers are 35-42-77, but he has no points in four straight games for the first time this season. If he doesn't get a point tonight, it would tie his career high skid of five, set four times previously. The point droughts of linemates Olofsson and Sam Reinhart have reached five and four games, respectively.
"They had so many chances in the Colorado and Vegas games. They just have to keep going," Krueger said. " ... They stick with it. They're human, too, and they're going to get into some lulls."
Eichel, who did not take faceoffs for a few games, returned to the circle in the third period Friday in Vegas and was a full go Saturday in Arizona, winning 11 of 19.
"Certainly he's feeling a lot better than after the maintenance day he had a week ago," Krueger said. "We hope that continues."
More Sabres by the numbers: Jeff Skinner has three goals in his last five games. ... Jake McCabe has a three-game point streak would set a career high if he gets to four tonight. ... By getting scratched tonight, Miller remains one game shy of 300 for his career. Barring any injuries, Kyle Okposo will play in his 800th game and Sam Reinhart will hit No. 400 Monday against Washington.
The upcoming schedule: The Sabres get no real breaks the next few days, even after being on the road for eight days. And the schedule is rough. They host Pittsburgh on Thursday in KeyBank Center, with the Penguins taking a six-game losing streak into Tuesday's home game against Ottawa. Buffalo then plays Saturday in surging Philadelphia before Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals visit Monday.