#5 Buffalo Sabresvs.#6 Tampa Bay Lightning
Written by Chris Kubala
Buffalo Sabres (16-15-4-5 SU, 25-15 PL, 15-21-4 O/U) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (19-19-2-2 SU, 20-22 PL, 21-16-5 O/U)
NHL: Thursday, January 12, 2017, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida, 7:30 pm ET
Lines: Tampa Bay -160, Buffalo +150; Over/Under: 5.5
It’s a battle of Atlantic Division foes trying to improve their chances of a playoff berth down in the Sunshine State. The Buffalo Sabres are on the road as they travel to face the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night. Buffalo won its second straight with a 4-1 home win over Philadelphia Tuesday night. Tampa Bay lost its fourth in a row as they were dumped 6-2 by Pittsburgh Sunday night. The Lightning has taken eight of the last 10 meetings, including a 4-1 road triumph in the first matchup this season back on November 17, 2016.
Buffalo has won two straight games but they still have work to do if they plan on trying to break their playoff drought. The Sabres entered Wednesday seventh in the Atlantic Division, five points behind Ottawa for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the division. Buffalo was seven points out of the second wild card spot. Buffalo enters the game 26th in the league in scoring with 2.3 goals per game. The Sabres are in the middle of the pack defensively, ranking 14th by allowing 2.4 goals per contest. Buffalo is 137th in the league on the power play as they convert on 22.3 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage. The Sabres come into this one dead last in penalty killing by killing off 74 percent of their shorthanded situations.
The Sabres picked up their second straight win on home ice but they have to start winning on the road. Buffalo was outshot 13-8 in the first period of the game but neither team managed to light the lamp. In the second period, each team had 13 shots but Buffalo broke through with three goals to take a 3-0 edge after 40 minutes. Sam Reinhart opened the scoring with a power play tally at 5:15, his ninth of the year. Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O’Reilly assisted on the marker. A little over three minutes later, at the 8:39 mark, William Carrier netted his second of the year on assists from Taylor Fedun and O’Reilly to make it a 2-0 game. In the closing seconds of the period, Evander Kane’s 10th of the year at 19:51 on assists from Reinhart and Zach Bogosian made it a 3-0 game. In the third period, Buffalo was outshot 14-6 but both teams scored. Philadelphia broke the shutout with a power play goal at 17:53 while Jake McCabe was off for hooking. Marcus Foligno closed the scoring by hitting the empty net at 19:56 of the period. His 8th of the year was assisted by Reinhart and McCabe. Anders Nilsson kicked out 39 shots to get the win and is expected to start here as well.
Tampa Bay’s good news is that they’ve had three days off. The bad news is four straight losses dropped them to .500 on the year. The Lightning entered Wednesday four points behind Ottawa for the third guaranteed playoff spot in the Atlantic and six behind the Flyers for the second wild card slot. Tampa Bay is 13th in the league as they average 2.8 goals per contest. The Lightning is 25th in goals against as they allow three goals per game. Tampa Bay is 2nd in the league when it comes to power play percentage as they have cashed in 23.5 percent of their chances with the man advantage. The Lightning is 24th in penalty killing with a 79.4 percent success rate in shorthanded situations.
The Lightning was outplayed in both games of their set up in the Keystone State as they were waffled by the Penguins. Tampa Bay was outshot 15-10 in the opening period but managed to keep the game scoreless. Things went south in the middle period as Pittsburgh had a 14-12 edge in shots and took a 2-1 lead to the dressing room. Jonathan Drouin opened the scoring and gave the Lightning a 1-0 edge at the 2:19 mark of the period. Valtteri Filppula and Victor Hedman assisted on the goal. The Penguins tallied twice in the next nine minutes to take the lead. In the third period, Tampa Bay was outshot 11-8 but outscored 4-1 to end up on the wrong end of a blowout. The Lightning gave up a pair of goals 55 seconds apart in the first 3:28 of the period to trail 4-1. Vladislav Namestnikov got Tampa Bay within 4-2 with his 5th of the year on the power play at 5:40 on assists from Drouin and Anton Stralman. That was as close as the Lightning would get as Pittsburgh tallied twice more to close it out. Andrei Vasilevskiy had 34 saves in taking the loss. Ben Bishop is expected to get the nod between the pipes here.
The Sabres have won a couple in a row but they have to go on the road here. Tampa Bay is really reeling and the Lightning has to figure things out. Their goaltending has been terrible and the offense has struggled without Stamkos. Buffalo has gotten good goaltending from Nilsson of late but they still don’t score much: 93 goals in 40 games doesn’t really move the needle. This is Tampa Bay’s proverbial last stand: they need a home win and get it here.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.