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Arizona Coyotes return home to face the Buffalo Sabres

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After two bad showings the Arizona Coyotes return home to face the Buffalo Sabres, a team that is likely not going to make the playoffs but is still theoretically in the hunt for a wild cards spot.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Coyotes are back home from their two-game road trip and will be facing off against the Buffalo Sabres who are playing in the second game of a back to back after their bye week. Tonight is also "Hockey is for Everyone" night at Gila River Arena to celebrate diversity and inclusion.

View From Buffalo

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

The Buffalo Sabres are in the position that many people thought the Coyotes would be this season. Both teams are coming off of rebuilds, however while the Sabres aren’t currently in a playoff spot they are still in the running for a Wild Card spot, however unlikely that is. They’ve been getting solid offense from the key players acquired by trades like Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane and drafts like Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. Although they need a few more years before they are truly competing for the Cup, they have come a long way since they were the worst team in the NHL.

Last night the Sabres played the last place Colorado Avalanche and came up short 5-3. This is the second straight game where the Sabres have allowed their opponents to score five goals, the other game being a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks before their bye week. Losses like that are far more likely to happen to teams that give up a lot of shots and Buffalo gives up a lot of shots. In 43 games played this season Robin Lehner has faced the third most shots in the league with 1410. His .923 save percentage is good, but with that many shots he’s allowing on average 2.57 goals against.

View From Arizona

Arizona is definitely playing better compared to how they played in the beginning of the season, but the past two few proved that there is still a lot work to be done. Losing to teams with offense like the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks is definitely understandable, but 5-2 and 6-3 loses should be unacceptable. Even more concerning was the team seemed to be keeping pace through the first period, but things fell apart in the second half of the game.

Trading Michael Stone will definitely cause a shakeup for the Coyotes blue line. The Yotes defense has been shaky this season and there is plenty of young talent in the pipeline so the move makes sense, especially with Stone having a rough season after being injured late last season. This move makes the defense even younger with Anthony DeAngelo getting the first shot at filling that spot, unfortunately a younger blue line can be prone to making more defensive mistakes so it remains to be seen what the short and long term impact of this move will be.

Three Questions

1. What’s the Coyotes goaltending situation going to be? Mike Smith missed the last game with a case of "not mumps" leading to Adin Hill getting brought up to backup Louis Domingue. It remains to be seen if he will sit out again tonight, and if the Yotes backups can get the job done against a struggling team.

2. Can the Coyotes stop leaking goals? Fortunately for the Desert Dogs the Buffalo Sabres are not the Chicago Blackhawks or the Dallas Stars. Chicago is consistently a solid team, and while Dallas seems to be doomed to mediocre goaltending they have plenty of offensive threats. All that being said the team should hopefully not allow as many goals as they did in their previous games, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen.

3. Will Arizona keep scoring goals? One positive of the Coyotes two loses is that they did continue their trend of scoring. Radim Vrbata had goals in both games, Ryan White and Jakob Chychrun both had goals against Chicago, and Martin Hanzal had a goal against Dallas. If the team can solidify the defense and goaltending again while keeping up the offense they should be set for the rest of the season.

Players to Watch

Buffalo – Evander Kane. Kane currently leads the Sabres in goals this season with 21 and has goals in four of his past six games.

Arizona – Radim Vrbata. Vrbata seems to play differently when he is in Arizona compared to other places. With 14 goals and 44 points he currently leads the team in assists and points by a wide margin, and is second in points behind only Martin Hanzal.

Injury Report

Alexander Burmistrov is questionable for tonight with an upper body injury and Brad Richardson is still out with a lower body injury. As mentioned above its unclear if Mike Smith will be available for tonight.

For the Sabres, William Carrier is currently on the injured reserve with a knee injury and Johan Larsson and Cody McCormick are both out for the rest of the season.

Puck Drop

Tonight’s game will air on Fox Sports Arizona and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM at 6:30pm Arizona time.