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Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres square off with everything on the line

The Coyotes and Sabres have a pivotal contest tonight for all the wrong reasons.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

At the risk of hyperbole, the next two games between the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres may be the single most meaningful regular season games either franchise has ever played. The eyes of the hockey world will look upon the First Niagara Center tonight for the first of these contests.

Matchup at a Glance

Arizona Coyotes Buffalo Sabres
Points 52 (7th Pacific) 47 (8th Atlantic)
Goals For 2.01 (29th) 1.78 (30th)
Goals Against 3.26 (28th) 3.29 (29th)
Power Play 20.6% (7th) 12.0% (30th)
Penalty Kill 78.2% (26th) 74.1% (30th)
5v5 SAT 48.9% (22nd) 37.0% (30th)
SpSV% 96.9 (30th) 98.4 (27th)

View from Arizona

It's difficult to call a win in which the Coyotes surrendered four goals "impressive", but the offense came alive in a manner fans haven't seen for a long time onTuesday night versus Detroit. The power play connected twice, the Coyotes scored 5 on 5 twice, and they even netted the overtime winner 4 on 4. It was an offensive bonanza.

The test will be how well they can follow up on that performance versus the only team in the league with a worst goals for number than Arizona has. Buffalo's defense is equally porous, so there should be plenty of opportunities to score.

View from Buffalo

Players and coaches don't tank. There will not be a single person on the ice tonight who wants to finish dead last in the standings. It's against every competitive molecule that got them to the NHL.

So when it comes to tanking, the onus is not on the players, but on the person who put them together.

Sabres General Manager Tim Murray has done a masterful job gutting the Sabres roster. He shipped out two of the team's best remaining offensive forces - Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford - for Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane. Kane was already ruled out for the season after undergoing surgery, so he will play no part in the Sabres' remaining games.

But really, the demolition of the Sabres has been several years in the making. The Sabres traded away Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, and Steve Ott over the past three seasons while allowing a myriad of good players to walk in free agency.

As a result, Buffalo is all but certain to draft one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, and they have two additional first round picks in this year's draft. If they can find the right personnel, Buffalo could rebound relatively quickly. But there's going to be quite a bit of pain in the interceding years.

Keys to the Game

  • Shoot - If the Detroit game taught the Coyotes any lessons, it's that it is never a bad idea to shoot the puck. They should have ample opportunity to do so versus this Sabres team.
  • Net-front Presence - David Moss scored twice by being in the right place at the right time, and John Moore scored his first goal as a Coyote by staying close to Jimmy Howard. That's how Arizona scores most of its goals.
  • Don't Let the Flukes Decide It - This is Arizona's first return to Buffalo since Mike Smith's infamous butt goal. Even if something weird happens in tonight's game, if the Coyotes play well, it shouldn't decide the outcome.

Who's Hot

Mark Arcobello scored twice against the Red Wings, and has seven goals in 19 games with Arizona. He should get a nice payday wherever he ends up this summer.

Matt Moulson returned to Buffalo after being traded to the Wild midway through last season. He has two goals and two assists in his last five games.

Injury Report

Apart from Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal, who are both done for the season after surgical procedures, Lauri Korpikoski is considered questionable tonight after taking a nasty high-stick to the face against Detroit.

The Sabres will be without Evander Kane, Josh Gorges, Zemgus Girgensons, and Cody McCormick, who are all on injured reserve. Chad Johnson is out indefinitely, while Zach Bogosian and Patrick Kaleta are both considered questionable for tonight's game.

Puck Drop

Duck out of work early, as you're going to want to see this one. Puck drop is at 4 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen on ESPN 620 AM.