The Colorado Avalanche begins a back-to-back set against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, the first of two meetings between the teams this year. Buffalo will visit the Pepsi Center on Feb. 25 to close out the season series. This is also the fourth game of Colorado's season-long, five-game road trip, which has the team playing five games in seven days.
It's the eighth of 11 back-to-back contests for the Avs, who will close out the road trip against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. The Avalanche is 2-5-0 in the first game of a back-to-back and 3-4-0 in the second this season. Buffalo enters Thursday's contest tied for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and tied with New Jersey and Florida in the Eastern Conference standings, five points out of a wild card spot.
Colorado is 15-8-4 all-time against Buffalo and 7-4-2 on the road, where it's won five of the last six meetings.
Last Time Out
The Avalanche is 0-3-0 on the road trip so far, coming off a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night. Defenseman Mark Barberio scored on the power play for his first tally in an Avalanche sweater since being claimed off waivers on Feb. 2. Mikhail Grigorenko added a marker late in the second period to bring Colorado within a goal, but the Avs were unable to find the equalizer. Jeremy Smith made 37 saves in his NHL debut.
Buffalo also played on Tuesday night, earning a 3-2 road win over the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes of play but scored two unanswered goals in the third to get the win. Robin Lehner stopped 39 of the 41 shots he faced, and former Avalanche Ryan O'Reilly scored a goal and won 12-of-21 faceoffs.
Last Time They Met
The Avalanche and Sabres last met on Feb. 14, 2016 in Buffalo, where Colorado fell 4-1. Despite outshooting the Sabres 35-21, the Avalanche only found the back of the net once with Erik Johnson potting the lone tally. Sam Reinhart notched a goal and an assist, and Ryan O'Reilly added two helpers and finished plus-3 to lead the Sabres. Goaltender Robin Lehner made 34 saves for Buffalo.
Video: Keefe and Rycroft preview tonight's game
What to Watch
Zadorov Returns to Buffalo
Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov was with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage last season when Colorado played his former team in Buffalo. While he was on the Avs' roster for the second meeting of the season and saw 19:17 of ice time when the Sabres visited Pepsi Center, Thursday's game will be his first in Buffalo as a member of the Avs.
"It's nice. I spent some time here, I have some friends here," he said following Wednesday's practice. "It's always nice to come back and play a hockey game here."
Buffalo Power Play
The Sabres bring the league's second-ranked power-play unit into Thursday night's matchup. They've cashed in on 39 of their 169 man-advantage opportunities for a 23.1 percent conversion rate. Only Toronto has a better success rate this season. At home, Buffalo has scored on 25.9 percent of its power plays, which is good for third in the NHL. Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen lead the Sabres with 19 and 18 power-play points, respectively. Ristolainen's 17 assists with the man advantage is tied for third in the league.
Player to Watch
Colorado: Center Matt Duchene
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has emphasized needing more production from the Matt Duchene-centered line, and they contributed in Tuesday's game against New Jersey, connecting for Colorado's second goal. Duchene's assist on the play broke a four-game streak without a point for the Avs' leading goal scorer. He's had success in his career against the Sabres with nine points (five goals, four assists) in eight career games, his highest goals-per-game total (1.13) against any Eastern Conference team in his career.
Buffalo: Center Jack Eichel
In his sophomore season since being drafted by the Sabres second overall in 2015, Eichel has improved from .69 to .83 points per game. He ranks second in the league behind only Brent Burns with 3.9 shots on goal per game and has logged 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in his last 15 contests, including six multipoint performances. The Sabres are a perfect 10-0-0 this season when he has at least two points.
Calvin Pickard will get the start in net for Colorado. Pickard is 1-1-0 in his career against the Sabres. Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar didn't rule out another start for Smith, either against Carolina on Friday or at some point in the near future.
Thursday's contest, which begins at 5:30 p.m. MT will be broadcast live on NBCSN. Altitude Sports Radio AM950 will carry the radio broadcast, and fans can also listen in online at ColoradoAvalanche.com.