Buffalo - January 15, 2015 -
Who: Minnesota Wild
Where: First Niagra Center, Buffalo, NY
Know thine enemy: It’s been a rough season for the State of Hockey’s favorite sons. They currently sit dead-last in the very tough Central Division, with 41 points through 42 games. Their biggest issue has been no secret: the goaltending. Darcy Kuemper has looked very human after a fantastic showing in the first round of the playoffs back in the spring and the corpse of Niklas Backstrom can only do so much.
Those issues are why the team went out and acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Coyotes for a third-round pick on Wednesday. Dubnyk has been good on a very bad team, outplaying incumbent starter Mike Smith, but whether or not he’s the answer in Minnesota remains to be seen.
The Wild are also thin on defense for this one. Marco Scandella and Justin Falk are on the injured-reserve and star defenseman Ryan Suter will sit this one out while serving a two-game suspension for elbowing Steve Downie.
Up front, they’re a little top-heavy. Zach Parise and Jason Pominville do most of the heavy-lifting, Thomas Vanek is the streakiest player in the game right now and after that, it’s a bunch of question marks. Nino Neiderreiter and Jason Zucker are scoring – combined 29 goals this year – but there isn’t much else after that.
About the Sabres: Uh, is it June yet?
At least the team gets back Chris Stewart for another veteran body in the lineup, but really, he’s a ghost on a pretty consistent basis as it is. I’m fairly certain he’s just biding his time until the trade deadline and hoping someone buys in on his potential.
Defensively, the team will start Nikita Zadorov after making him a healthy-scratch for the last two games. This is slightly different from the mismanagement of Mikhail Grigorenko, but it’s frustrating to see such a highly-regarded prospect waste his time in the NHL not playing when he could be honing his skills back in junior.
Either way, the team lives and dies with the goaltending and will likely continue to do so for the rest of the season.
The last time these two met: These two met in St. Paul back in mid-November and Niederreiter was the star, netting a hat trick in the 6-3 Minnesota win. This was right around the time the Sabres started to get ridiculously hot and we all know where that went, don’t we?
The part where I predict things: The Sabres are so very very bad right now and it doesn’t matter what troubles you, playing them will cure that. The Wild are struggling, Mike Yeo’s neck is on the line and they’re looking for anything to get going in the right direction again.
Buffalo, meanwhile, is just hoping it’ll be June soon.
Score: 4-1 Wild
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