Sabres Projected Lines:
Victor Olofsson – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Casey Mittelstadt – Marcus Johansson – Jimmy Vesey
Jeff Skinner – Johan Larsson – Conor Sheary
Zemgus Girgensons – Rasmus Asplund – Curtis Lazar*
Marco Scandella – Rasmus Ristolainen
Brandon Montour – Zach Bogosian
Jake McCabe – Henri Jokiharju
*There is a good chance the Sabres go with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen again.
Devils Projected Lines:
Jesper Boqvist – Nico Hischier – Kyle Palmieri
Blake Coleman – Travis Zajac – Nikita Gusev
Taylor Hall – Pavel Zacha – Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood – Kevin Rooney – Wayne Simmonds
Sami Vatanen – PK Subban
Andy Greene – Damon Severson
Will Butcher – Matt Tennyson
Keys to the Game
#1. Jokiharju on top PP unit
This morning was a glimpse of what we’ll see tonight in Henri Jokiharju; he’s rightfully deserved the position to be the defenseman on the first powerplay unit. With Dahlin out, Jokiharju is the best passer from the back end (he still might be with Dahlin in the lineup).
While his stretch passing is most impressive in my eyes, he’s agile and calm, which can open up lanes for Eichel and Olofsson to fire away in their umbrella setup.
His numbers production wise might not be staggering and his RAPM chart doesn’t pop off the screen, but giving Jokiharju this opportunity should give him a confidence boost.
Also, this allows Ristolainen to slide into the second unit to hopefully provide some kind of production. Just please let Risto be the pivot and Miller on his left at the top of the umbrella.
If Miller is the pivot at the top again, I’m not sure the second unit will find much success. Let Risto feed him to unleash his cannon of a slap shot, don’t rely on Miller to quarterback the powerplay.
I know I digressed a bit, but it’s important to note a change like Jokiharju playing on PP1 has a ripple effect throughout the special teams lineup.
#2. Will Sabres play down to their competition?
Look, there’s no good way of saying this, but New Jersey isn’t good this year. In fact, they’re pretty awful. They have the second worst goal differential in the NHL only behind Detroit.
We can say that considering the Sabres have been bottom dwellers for years. It takes one to know one. That being said, it’s a new year for Buffalo and on paper, they’re a better team than New Jersey, but they can’t play down to their competition.
Playing down to an opponent is something almost all professional and amateur teams fall victim to. I’ve been part of it before, I’m sure you have too. Your team is clearly better on paper, but when the puck drops, things do not go as planned.
Whether it’s the opponent playing up to their competition, the superior team playing down to their competition or a mixture of both, the Sabres need to come out of tonight with a win.
Yes, this is their sixth game in nine days, that’s very difficult on the body and mind, but things won’t be getting any easier.
After this game, the Sabres head out to Western Canada to play Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton, which will be a very tough test each night.
Buffalo played well during a home-and-home series with Toronto, but still, in their last 15 games, they’re 3-8-4. They took it to this Devils team at the home opener, winning 7-2, so the Sabres know what they’re capable of against New Jersey.
Snagging a win at home before heading out west will help if a game or two slips away, especially against teams like Vancouver and Edmonton who are impressive so far this season.
That being said, they boys in blue and gold will have to take it game by game, starting tonight against New Jersey.
#3. Linus Ullmark starts again
In the last eight games, Sabres Head Coach Ralph Krueger has given Linus Ullmark the nod six times. The two games Ullmark didn’t start, both were back to back games that Hutton was between the pipes for.
While there are a couple goals in the last few games I really don’t want to see the starter let in, Linus Ullmark has played well enough to garner more starts than Hutton. Key phrase is “well enough”.
This topic seems like a seesaw considering next week we could be talking about how Ullmark has taken a step back and it’s time to hand the reigns over to Carter Hutton. This is simply the nature of not having a clear cut number one goaltender.
In today’s NHL, it’s more important than ever to have two competent goaltenders to give you a chance to win every night, but anyone telling you they don’t want to have a clear cut number one is lying to you.
Regardless of what this means for the future, here and now, it is Ullmark’s net. If he puts in a strong performance tonight against the Devils, don’t expect things to change on the upcoming road trip. If he falters, I’d expect to see some more Hutton than we have recently.