It sounds strange to say that a game between the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets from MTS Centre in Winnipeg comes with great importance. Tonight’s tilt between the two (8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN) does just that as the Jets hold the eighth spot in the East while the Sabres have crawled out of the basement and sit two back of Winnipeg.
The Sabres rise from the depths comes thanks to their all-world goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller has won six of his last seven starts and has two shutouts in that span while the loss came in overtime to the East-leading Rangers. With how poorly the teams in the race for eighth have played, the Sabres climb has been easy to make, relatively speaking. Perhaps the Sabres trading his friend Paul Gaustad has lit a fire under him.
Making life easier offensively for Buffalo has been newcomer Cody Hodgson. Hodgson’s addition is helping to bring Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford out of their respective shells. Whether Hodgson asked to be dealt is still a mystery, but the Sabres are reaping the benefits. If Buffalo can get their top line of Thomas Vanek-Derek Roy-Jason Pominville back on track, that gives the Sabres two potent scoring lines. Amazing what having two skilled centers can do. Heck, even Ville Leino broke out of his slump with two goals against Vancouver on Saturday night.
The Jets story, meanwhile, is another centered around stellar play of a goalie. In this case it’s Ondrej Pavelec that has often been the show-stealer for Winnipeg. Pavelec has four wins in his last six starts including a shutout in his last game against Florida. Pavelec has had his work cut out for him this season but has played strong.
Offensively, the Jets are getting a big season out of Blake Wheeler. Wheeler leads the team in points and has been a key setup man for breakout goal scorer Evander Kane. Kane’s 26 goals leads the team, six ahead of Andrew Ladd.
Winnipeg is even getting more of that offensive pop from the blue line thanks to Dustin Byfuglien whose 42 points in 50 games has him as a constant threat. They’ll have to go about it without Zach Bogosian though as he’s still saddled with a bum wrist. To say the least, however, the Jets are all in for a playoff push.
Home ice advantage: If there’s one thing that gives Winnipeg a big edge in tonight’s game it’s playing at MTS Centre. The Jets are 20-10-4 at home and they’re finding that having the smallest building in the league has its advantages with a raucous crowd that overwhelms opponents. Just think of what a pain they’d be if they made the playoffs.
Talk about getting thrown into the fire.
Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.
Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.
Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.
We’ll start to find out tonight.
Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.
— Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.
— Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.
— Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.
— Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.
— Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.
— Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.
Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.
“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly.
So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.
That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”
The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.
“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”
That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.
Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen