When last the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres met, it was a contest full of intrigue, for all the wrong reasons. Tonight, two young teams with a lot to prove go head-to-head at the First Niagara Center.
Matchup at a Glance
|Arizona Coyotes||Buffalo Sabres|
|Points||27 (3rd Pacific)||23 (7th Atlantic)|
|Goals For||2.72 (13th)||2.28 (26th)|
|Goals Against||3.00 (T-26th)||2.60 (16th)|
|Power Play||15.6% (T-27th)||22.5% (5th)|
|Penalty Kill||81.3% (12th)||74.6% (T-28th)|
|5v5 Corsi For||46.5% (26th)||48.2% (24th)|
|PDO||101.3 (T-8th)||98.4 (T-25th)|
View from Arizona
Ten goals in the last two games.
That's the line the Coyotes defense has put up. It's been on everyone: Oliver Ekman-Larsson committed at least two defensive zone turnovers that turned into goals against, Mike Smith allowed a goal from center ice last night in Detroit, and in general the Coyotes have had a difficult time keeping opposing teams out of the slot in front of their goaltender.
This is the Coyotes team that many (myself included) expected to see when the season started. There's a lot of offensive talent that brings the ability to stretch the ice. But there are still worrying issues on defense, in goal, and in possession that have not been rectified.
Lest we be all doom and gloom, the Coyotes are inching ever so close to healthiness again. Steve Downie returned off injured reserve yesterday, and Shane Doan's return is imminent. While neither player is really a "game-changer", both are no slouches in their own end, and both should add a little more experience to an otherwise very young and frustrated top nine.
It is perhaps damning with faint praise that the Buffalo Sabres look remarkably improved this season considering they sit 7th in their division and 23rd in the league overall. Yet that demonstrates how bad the Sabres were last year; last season's team finished with a 5v5 Corsi For Percentage of 37.5, the lowest percentage ever recorded since tracking began in earnest. The next closest? 42.8%.
When looking at this Sabres' lineup compared to last-year, the areas of improvement are relatively easy to spot. Ryan O'Reilly is the team's point leader with 20 on the season, and has solidified himself as the club's 1C this year. Evander Kane is having a decent (albeit slightly abridged by injury) campaign, and Cody Franson has done much to provide offense from the back-end.
And of course, we have to mention the youngsters. Jack Eichel is having a respectable - if slightly underwhelming given the hype - rookie year, with eight goals and four assists thus far. Sam Reinhart, the team's top pick the year before, has six goals and three assists on the year. Both young forwards are showcasing the talent that Buffalo has up and coming, and both will be the bedrock from which the Sabres attempt to rebuild.
Keys to the Game
- Simplify in the Defensive End - It's been rough sailing for the Coyotes defensively. They need to get back to making the front of the net a difficult place to play.
- Take More Shots - The fact that Arizona was only outshot two to one for most of the night in Detroit was an improvement considering they were outshot three to one against Nashville. Regardless, the Coyotes have not done a good job holding onto the puck and threatening the opposing goaltender, even when the other team should ostensibly be sitting back.
- Keep Doing Good Things on the Penalty Kill - The Coyotes penalty kill has been a consistent bright spot recently, even in the team's blowout losses. That's a trend that needs to continue.
Players to Watch
Max Domi leads the team in points, but nipping at his feet is Mikkel Boedker, who has nine goals and ten assists through twenty-five games.
If you were ever wondering "Whatever happened to Chad Johnson?", the answer is that he's manning the pipes for Buffalo in Robin Lehner's absence. Johnson has a .913 save percentage and a 2.37 GAA in 16 appearances this season.
Joe Vitale is still on injured reserve, while Shane Doan's status for tonight's game remains uncertain.
Buffalo is missing Cody McCormick and Robin Lehner until at least late-December. Tyler Ennis and Mark Pysyk are out indefinitely, while Mike Weber's status is uncertain (he's listed as "out indefinitely" but did skate as the 7th defenseman this morning).
Tonight's game begins at 5 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona Plus or listen on ESPN 620 AM.