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Arizona Coyotes face Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres

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Tonight's game doesn't have the same stakes as their meetings last year.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Dwelling on the past is not a recipe for success, but it is hard not to wonder what could have been for the Arizona Coyotes when #15 lines up in white and blue tonight.

The Coyotes will take on Jack Eichel for the first time in Glendale when he and the Buffalo Sabres visit Gila River Arena, in the fifth game of seven at home for the Desert Dogs.

Matchup at a Glance

Buffalo Sabres Arizona Coyotes
Points 40 (7th Atlantic) 49 (2nd Pacific)
Goals For 2.31 (27th) 2.77 (8th)
Goals Against 2.64 (17th) 3.00 (T-28th)
Power Play 19.4% (11th) 19.1% (12th)
Penalty Kill 78.3% (25th) 77.3% (27th)
5v5 Corsi For 47.7% (21st) 47.2% (26th)
PDO 98.6 (T-26th) 101.2 (5th)

View from Buffalo

For more on the Buffalo Sabres, check out Die By The Blade

At this time last season, the Sabres had 31 points, 13 behind 7th place in the Atlantic Division. The Sabres are only nine points better in the standings, but have taken several strides in the right direction in other metrics.

Buffalo is scoring .44 goals per game more than they were last season, which really underscores how inept their offense was last season considering they're only scoring 2.31 per game this season. Additionally, the Sabres are giving up .64 fewer goals per game this season compared to last season. The valley may be wide and deep, but the Sabres are slowly bridging it.

In addition to Eichel, the Sabres are building around a core of Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, and Sam Reinhart. They are further supplemented by veterans like Brian Gionta, Cody Franson, and David Legwand. The Sabres are not a playoff team, but year one of the rebuild is progressing quite nicely for Tim Murray.

View from Arizona

It may sound contradictory to say one of Arizona's best offensive efforts of the season came in a game in which they scored zero goals, but their game against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday was a blueprint for how to win in today's NHL.

The Coyotes out-attempted the Devils by a staggering 96-31, which goes to show both that Arizona can possess the puck and that having a tremendous goalie can win games that a team should otherwise lose.

Arizona's last three games of this homestand are against Buffalo, San Jose, and Los Angeles. So tonight's game is the last opportunity for Arizona to pick up consequence-free points in the standings before taking on division opponents.

Keys to the Game

  • Attack Early - The only time the Devils out-attempted the Coyotes was in the first five minutes of the game, at which point New Jersey already had a 1-0 lead. The Coyotes need to set the tone early and hem in the Sabres.
  • Stay Out of the Box - Arizona gave up only two power plays - both in the first period - against New Jersey. That's the best way to keep a clean sheet on special teams.
  • Exploit Buffalo's Depth - The Sabres are not particularly threatening in the bottom six or their bottom pairing. With the last change, the Coyotes need to ice favorable line combinations and outskate Buffalo's veteran players.

Players to Watch

Rasmus Ristolainen is Buffalo's most prolific defenseman, with eight goals and 21 assists in 45 contests. At 21 years old, the future is bright for the Finnish blueliner.

There is a three-way race to replace John Scott as the Coyotes' representative for the All-Star Game. The frontrunner is likely Mikkel Boedker, who leads the team in points with 33.

Injury Report

Buffalo has Cody McCormick, Nicolas Deslauriers, and Tyler Ennis on injured reserve, Zemgus Girgensons is considered out for tonight's game, while Josh Gorges is considered questionable.

Mike Smith and Joe Vitale remain on injured reserve, but the Coyotes are otherwise healthy.

Puck Drop

Tonight's game begins at 7 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.