The Edmonton Oilers return to the ice tonight as they battle the Buffalo Sabres at Rogers Place. It is the first of two meetings on the season between the sides. Edmonton swept the series a season ago. It is the second half of a back-to-back set for the Sabres, who lost 6-5 in overtime in Vancouver yesterday.
The Oilers are getting a boost tonight, as Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both return to the lineup. Kassian has missed the last three games with a back issue, while Nugent-Hopkins has been out two weeks with a hand issue.
Mike Smith gets the start for the Oilers, while Linus Ullmark gets the nod for the Sabres.
Keys To The Game:
Edmonton: Better puck possession is key. Yes, the Oilers won on Friday night, but the Kings controlled the play for stretches at five-on-five. The Sabres have many more weapons and, unlike LA, can make you pay when they tilt possession. The Oilers need to do a better job of sustaining pressure tonight against a tired Buffalo team.
Buffalo: A hot start is very important. The Sabres are coming off of a tough loss yesterday in Vancouver, so they will be both angry and tired. Jumping on the Oilers early could push Edmonton into a state of frustration, forcing them out of their system. Push early.
Players To Watch:
Edmonton: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is back, and that is great news for the Oilers. RNH has been sorely missed as a two-way presence who can help with the penalty kill. He should help set other players into the right spot, and I suspect RNH makes his presence known early tonight.
Buffalo: Jack Eichel has taken yet another step this season. The 2nd overall pick in 2015 is a star that has really helped the Sabres turn things around this season. He has arguably the best wrist shot in the league and continues to evolve as a leader.
With Nugent-Hopkins and Kassian back in, Patrick Russell will sit up front. Colby Cave is also scratched while Brandon Manning sits on the blueline. Matt Benning is still on the IR with a head injury.
Edmonton Oilers Lines:
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – James Neal
Joakim Nygard – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Markus Granlund – Riley Sheahan – Josh Archibald
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Oscar Klefbom – Joel Persson
Kris Russell – Adam Larsson
The Sabres have a different look than a season ago. They inked veteran Marcus Johansson in free agency and then acquired Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju via trade.
Buffalo Sabres Lines:
Victor Olofsson – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner – Marcus Johansson – Rasmus Asplund
Jimmy Vesey – Casey Mittelstadt – Conor Sheary
Zemgus Girgensons – Johan Larsson – Kyle Okposo
Brandon Montour – Rasmus Ristolainen
Marco Scandella – Henri Jokiharju
Colin Miller – Zach Bogosian
The Oilers swept the regular season series between these sides a year ago, winning both in regulation time. The teams will conclude their season series on January 2nd in Buffalo. Mikko Koskinen got the win in both affairs.
The Oilers have cooled off a bit in their last ten games. They are just 5-4-1 in their last ten, although they are 8-4-2 at Rogers Place this season. The Sabres are just 5-8-3 on the road this season and 0-1-1 on their current road trip.
Edmonton is just 1-3-0 against the Atlantic division this season, having only beaten Detroit earlier this season. The Oilers dropped games to the Red Wings, Panthers and Senators. The Sabres are just 3-2-3 against the Pacific.