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Three questions facing the Buffalo Sabres

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future.

Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

1. Will all the turnover on the roster amount to a turnaround on the ice?

There’s been a lot of change in Buffalo this summer.

A quick recap:

IN: Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick, Scott Wedgewood

OUT: Ryan O'Reilly, Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson, Josh Gorges, Benoit Pouliot

Change can be good, and for the Sabres, any amount of change likely betters than compared to last season. But there’s not much of a guessing game here. Names like Skinner, Berglund and Sheary already mean good things for Buffalo, as does a certain Rasmus Dahlin.

It might be shaky at the start. There’s going to be a feeling out process for all these new guys. But there’s a good shell in Buffalo now that should equate to more wins, providing Hutton can handle the load of a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.

Buffalo has done enough to pencil its name into the playoff conversation.

2. Can Kyle Okposo rekindle his form from the New York Islanders years?

Two concussions in less than a year, and while they’re all scary, his first one was a nightmare.

That’s what Okposo has had to deal with, along with watching his production fall off from where it was on Long Island.

It’s been a tough couple of seasons with the Sabres. Playing on a lesser team, Okposo, concussions and all, hasn’t been able to reach the near point-per-game pace he found in his final three seasons with the Islanders.

It’s likely that Okposo will play on the right side of Casey Mittelstadt next season. Hopefully, a summer of healing from his latest concussion in March will turn into a bounce-back year from Okposo.

3. Speaking of Mittelstadt, can he turn a solid college season and an impressive debut with the Sabres into a productive season as a second-line center? 

Buffalo’s depth at center may be it’s strongest attribute, even after losing Ryan O’Reilly to a trade this offseason.

There’s a lot of guys who can play the position, be it full-time or in a pinch, including Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, both who were part of the return for O’Reilly from the St. Louis Blues.

Options are good.

Mittelstadt had five points in six games to close out the season with the Sabres after his season at the University of Minnesota ended. He showed he can perform at the college level and found success early in the NHL.

If he can hold down the fort on the second line, it allows the Sabres far more flexibility with how they handle their other lines. Having Berglund center the third line, for instance, spreads the wealth of talent down further and the team wouldn’t have to consider moving Sam Reinhart off the wing where he put up a career-year last season, and place him at center.

Mittelstadt showed a brief glimpse of his worth at the end of last season. It will be interesting to watch what he can do to start the next one.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Huberdeau shootout hero for Panthers; Saros to the rescue

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

A pretty eventful game against the Washington Capitals came to an end thanks to Huberdeau’s winner in the fourth round of the shootout. After the Panthers stormed out to a 4-1 first period lead, the Capitals clawed back in the second to even the score. But it was Huberdeau’s second of the season that gave Florida its lead back. After a Nicklas Backstrom goal late in the third tied it up, we were off to a shootout where Huberdeau ended things to cap off a three-point night in a 6-5 victory.

2. Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild

The Wild netminder stopped 33 shots, including 24(!) in the second period during a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars. Matt Dumba and Ryan Suter scored 3:17 apart midway through the third period to erase a Dallas lead and put Minnesota in front for good.

3. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

Pekka Rinne left the game with 14:51 left in the third period and Saros would stop all nine shots he faced in relief to help secure a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames. Zac Rinaldo snapped a 3-3 tie 6:31 into the third period for his first of the year. Saros was tested immediately after entering the game, denying Elias Lindholm in tight.

Highlights of the Night

Ryan Suter went with the bank shot for the game-winning goal against the Stars:

Aleksander Barkov continues to be ridiculous in the shootout:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Panthers 6, Capitals 5 (SO)
Wild 3, Stars 1
Predators 5, Flames 3

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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.

Dubnyk leads Wild during 3-1 win over Stars

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The Dallas Stars did what they could to try and solve Devan Dubnyk Friday night but only could beat the Minnesota Wild netminder once during a 3-1 defeat.

After a quiet first period, the Stars used the second period to test Dubnyk frequently. They fired 24 shots on the Minnesota net but were denied each and every time. Dubnyk would finish with 33 saves to earn his third victory of the season.

“You’ve just got to work as hard as you can,” Dubnyk said afterward. “I know if I can hold the fort down as long as I can, we’ll get there.”

The third period was a different story and where the game flipped. Jason Spezza deflected a Miro Heiskanen shot to finally give the Stars their first goal, but after that it was all Wild in a period where they outshot Dallas 14-4. Nine minutes after Spezza’s goal Matt Dumba would put home a loose puck in front of Ben Bishop to even the score.

Three minutes later the Wild would grab the lead for good as Ryan Suter‘s shot from below the goal line deflected in off of Stars defenseman Esa Lindell for a 2-1 lead.

Suter’s goal and assist helped him hit 500 points in his career, making him the 11th U.S.-born defenseman in NHL history to reach the milestone.

Dallas had no answer for Dubnyk as they dropped their third in a row and fourth in their last five games.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Coyotes’ Dvorak sidelined indefinitely by torn pectoral

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak is sidelined indefinitely after having surgery Friday to repair a torn pectoral muscle.

“We looked at our options and decided that surgery was our best option to get him back as soon as possible,” Chayka told reporters on Friday. “He had the procedure this morning and it went very well. Now it’s the road to recovery and it’ll be a number of months.”

Dvorak was injured last week during a rehab skate for an unrelated injury.

“The doctors told us it’s a fairly unique injury, especially for hockey players, and then the severity of the tear, it differs from person to person,” Chayka said. “You hope it’s not the season, but it’s not out of the question.”

The 22-year-old Dvorak has yet to play this season, his third with the Coyotes. He had 15 goals in each of his first two seasons.

WATCH LIVE: Wild visit Stars on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app and by clicking here.

As the Stars look to get back to winning ways they likely will be without Alexander Radulov Friday night. A lower-body injury could keep him out against the Wild, which would see Roope Hintz bumped up to the top line, according to head coach Jim Montgomery. Connor Carrick remains out after not showing enough during his time in the lineup, opening the door for Roman Polak to state his case.

Making a return for the Wild will be captain Mikko Koivu after he missed Tuesday’s game for the birth of his son Oskar. Marcus Foligno will also be back.

Meanwhile, it was last April in Dallas where Wild defenseman Ryan Suter suffered a broken ankle. As he once again eats major minutes (26:12 per game) on a nightly basis, he still has some hesitatation when it comes to plays near the boards.

“At different points going back for pucks I try not to put myself in that situation quite yet,” Suter said via the Star Tribune. “That play probably happens five or 10 times [per game]. It’s hard to get around it. You’re a little more hesitant. You think about it a little bit more. Hopefully soon that won’t be on my mind.”

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
WHERE: American Airlines Center
WHEN: Friday, October 19th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Wild-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalMatt Read
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Mikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterCharlie CoyleJordan Greenway
Nate ProsserEric FehrJ.T. Brown

Ryan Suter – Matt Dumba
Jonas BrodinJared Spurgeon
Nick SeelerGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

STARS
Jamie BennTyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov/Roope Hintz
Devin ShoreJason SpezzaTyler Pitlick
Mattias JanmarkRadek FaksaBlake Comeau
Jason Dickinson – Roope Hintz/Gemel SmithBrett Ritchie

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotMiro Heiskanen
Julius Honka – Roman Polak

Starting goalie: Ben Bishop