Kyle Okposo

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The Buzzer: Linus blankets Blue Jackets; KHL women’s dance party

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Player of the Night: Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres

Quite a way for Ullmark to make his first start of 2017-18.

The 24-year-old set a new career-high with 44 saves against the Columbus Blue Jackets, helping Buffalo steal a 3-1 win. Only Artemi Panarin‘s beautiful goal beat Ullmark (or at least Ullmark and his post) during this game.

One wonders if Ullmark, 24, deserves a longer look with Buffalo or elsewhere. He generated an outstanding .928 save percentage in 26 AHL games this season, and while his NHL work has been sporadic, he’s been solid when called upon. What else does Buffalo have to lose, other than better draft lottery odds?

Highlight of the Night: Speaking of that Panarin goal …

Runner-up goes to Mark Jankowski, who poured it on for the Flames against the Lightning:

Dance Party!

Lowlight of the Night: Although, maybe a highlight because Kyle Okposo deserves some luck after last season’s health scares.

Factoid

The Hurricanes ended the Capitals’ home dominance, continuing their rise in the process:

Scores

Sabres 3, Blue Jackets 1
Hurricanes 3, Capitals 1
Flames 5, Lightning 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: 2018 Winter Classic – Rangers vs. Sabres

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PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick Nash/Mika Zibanejad/Mats Zuccarello

Michael Grabner/Kevin Hayes/J.T. Miller

Pavel Buchnevich/David Desharnais/Jimmy Vesey

Paul Carey/Boo Nieves/Vinni Lettieri

Ryan McDonagh/Nick Holden

Brendan Smith/Kevin Shattenkirk

Marc Staal/Brady Skjei

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Rangers, Sabres take advantage of Winter Classic distraction

Sabres:

Zemgus Girgensons/Jack Eichel/Sam Reinhart

Evander Kane/Ryan O'Reilly/Kyle Okposo

Benoit Pouliot/Evan Rodrigues/Jason Pominville

Johan Larsson/Jacob Josefson/Jordan Nolan

Marco Scandella/Rasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabe/Zach Bogosian

Josh Gorges/Nathan Beaulieu

Startling goalie: Robin Lehner

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers, Sabres prepared for cold, windy Winter Classic conditions

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NEW YORK – Jordan Nolan of the Buffalo Sabres wasn’t sure how effective his eye black would be should it be sunny during Monday’s Winter Classic against the New York Rangers at Citi Field. One thing he was sure about, though, was how cool he thought it looked.

Eye black. Lotion. Heated benches. Toques. Layers upon layers of clothing. These are some of the tools available to players when they take part in these outdoor games. The forecast for Queens, New York on New Year’s Day calls for a high around 16 degrees with a windchill making it feel like 1 degree.

As the game goes along, the players will be able to adjust to the elements, but early on, things such as sun, snowflakes and wind, which are expected to be around 16 mph, could affect play.

“All those elements are going to come into play,” said Sabres head coach Phil Housley. “Hopefully the wind will be at our back for three periods. I know that’s not going to be the case but we’re going to put a good game plan together just using other coaches’ experience here, being in this game and what it’s all about. We’ll be ready to go.”

Both teams got to experience the elements and adjust to their surroundings on Sunday during practice day at Citi Field. The cold was obvious, but wind was a noticeable factor, one that will play a role when puck drops on Monday afternoon.

“It’s in play,” said Sabres forward Kyle Okposo. “It depends which way you’re going. If it’s a crosswind it kind of blows your stick a little bit [and] makes you miss a pass by that much. [It’s] definitely a little bit of a factor but it’s the same thing for both teams.”

The first Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium in 2014 between the Rangers and New Jersey Devils was delayed due to a sun glare. Even with eye black, glare combined with the unique sightlines a hockey rink in the middle of a baseball stadium brings can provide plenty of tough moments for both goaltenders and skaters. Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner called the sun “a little challenging,” while Ryan O'Reilly added that a few times he had difficult seeing while carrying the puck up ice.

Outdoor games are never a typical hockey experience, which is why most teams try to keep their game plan simple: get the puck in deep, get it out quickly, capitalize on mistakes. “The goals that happen are usually bang-bang plays,” said Sabres forward Kyle Okposo, who played in the 2014 Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium.

Between the Sabres and Rangers, 22 players have participated in at least one NHL outdoor game. There will be plenty of newbies experiencing the pomp and circumstance that Monday afternoon will bring and then you’ll have someone like Benoit Pouliot, who will be suiting up to play outside for the fifth time in his career.

Another outdoor game vet is Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqivst, who will be playing in his fourth. He’s won all three that he’s started and by this point he’s pretty well-educated on how to handle whatever conditions Mother Nature throws at him.

“It’s about layering up and understanding what you need to be wearing,” Lundqvist said. “The ice was great, really fast. I really enjoyed practice. It got a little cold in the end during the family skate. Overall, it felt to be out there. A little windy, but we’ll see [Monday]. I think it’s going to be a great hockey game.”

More 2018 Winter Classic coverage:
Sabres’ Jason Pominville ready for third outdoor game experience
Mike Emrick on calling the first Winter Classic, his favorite outdoor game venues (PHT Q&A)
Sabres hoping to use Winter Classic to jump-start positive second half

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres

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PROJECTED LINES

Bruins

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskRyan SpoonerAnders Bjork

Danton HeinenRiley NashDavid Backes

Tim SchallerSean KuralyNoel Acciari

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugBrandon Carlo

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

BRUINS LOOK TO KEEP ROLLING AGAINST SABRES (Preview)

Sabres

Evander KaneJack EichelJason Pominville

Benoit PouliotRyan O'ReillyKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonSam Reinhart

Evan RodriguesJacob JosefsonJordan Nolan

Marco ScandellaRasmus Ristolainen

Nathan BeaulieuZach Bogosian

Jake McCabeVictor Antipin

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

Buffalo Sabres keep getting worse

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The Buffalo Sabres keep finding ways to reach new lows.

On Friday night they were on the losing end of a 4-0 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing for the 10th time in their past 11 games.

The overall numbers for the season are, to say the least, ugly.

  • They remain tied with the Arizona Coyotes for the worst record in the league, and given the way Arizona is starting to play a little better they may not be tied for much longer.
  • They are still the lowest scoring team in the league.
  • They have yet to receive a goal from a defenseman. Any defenseman. Twenty-six game sinto the season.

Friday’s loss also marked the third consecutive game that they were shut out.

This one was particularly ugly.

Not only were they shutout by a rookie goalie making just his fifth NHL start, they really did not pose a significant threat at any point during the game.

Their power play, entering the night ranked 30th in the NHL and only outscoring the opposing penalty kills by a 9-7 margin on the season, looked especially anemic and spent most of the night getting booed by an increasingly angry and frustrated crowd.

Coach Phil Housley called the way his team executed the gameplan on Friday night “embarrassing.”

What has to be especially concerning for the Sabres is that the start to this season is making it pretty clear that they are going to take another step backwards in their overall rebuild. The arrival of Jack Eichel, as well as the additions of players like Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Robin Lehner over the past few years were supposed to be a turning point. They were supposed to get the organization going back into a more successful direction and make them a playoff contender again.

Instead, the team regressed across the board a season ago and seems to be taking an even bigger step in the wrong direction this season.

After Friday’s loss the Sabres have won just six of their first 26 games.

Just look at how that start compares to the past five years.

2013-14: 5-20-1 (11 points)

2014-15: 9-15-2 (20 points)

2015-16: 11-12-3 (25 points)

2016-17: 10-10-6 (26 points)

2017-18: 6-15-4 (16 points)

This start this season, more than a quarter of the way through it, is right on par with what they were doing when the team was in full-on tank mode. This team is not built to tank. This team has big-money veterans. It has a potential superstar and franchise building block in Eichel.

It should not be this bad.

It also does not seem that things are on the verge of getting much better, especially with a brutal schedule in December.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.