Twenty months after he was traded for the first time, Miller finally gets to play a game in the city he began his NHL career in. It will be a special, perhaps even emotional, affair for the Canucks' netminder but don't expect him to have a soft spot for his former team. Miller would love nothing more than to hand the Sabres a loss this afternoon not just for himself but because he knows the importance of getting this lengthy road swing off to a good start, especially with his team coming off a disappointing 3-2 home loss to the Penguins on Wednesday.
The Canucks are expected to make one line-up change today bringing Sven Baertschi back in to play alongside Bo Horvat and Jannik Hansen. Chris Higgins moves to a line with Jared McCann and Derek Dorsett, while Adam Cracknell comes out. This will mark the first time the Canucks face the Sabres with ex-Penguins coach Dan Byslma behind the bench. Byslma, at one point, was rumoured to be considered for Vancouver's vacant job two summers ago prior to the Canucks hiring Willie Desjardins. Buffalo is coming off a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday - a defeat that snapped their two-game win streak.
Puck drop at 10 am PT – Live on Sportsnet, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
There weren't many happy campers in Buffalo back in April when the Sabres learned that, despite finishing last overall in the league standings, they would be runner-up in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. As far as a consolation prize, however, the Sabres can't complain about landing Jack Eichel in the second overall spot. Eichel's arrival is just one of many off-season upgrades the Sabres made to try and bolster an offence that finished dead last in the league by a country mile. They traded for former Avalanche Ryan O'Reilly, a former 20-goal and 60-point producer; they welcomed 2014 first-rounder (also second overall pick) Sam Reinhart back into the fold after giving him a nine-game tryout last season; and they debuted the dynamic Evander Kane, a player they acquired mid-season from Winnipeg last year despite the fact his shoulder injury precluded him from appearing in any games following the trade. The offence has improved – it's averaging 2.15 goals per game this season after averaging a league-worst 1.87 last season – but not to the degree the Sabres would have liked.
Offensive chemistry hasn't quite formed yet for the young Sabres, and recently losing Kane to injury won't help matters. Buffalo has gotten great production from the newcomer O'Reilly, who has put up a team-leading 13 points in 13 games while skating mostly alongside Tyler Ennis. Eichel, meanwhile, had been skating with Kane prior to the latter's injury and now has Johan Larsson on his left side. The key to any potential success for the Sabres this season, however, seems to lie in the crease. They brought in 24-year-old Robin Lehner from the Senators to be their go-to-guy but he suffered an injury in the season-opener leaving the Sabres no choice but to hand the reins over to journeyman back-up Chad Johnson. Johnson's unimpressive start has opened the door for 22-year-old rookie Linus Ullmark, a former MoDo goalie who is playing in his first season in North America. Ullmark went into their last game against Tampa Bay riding a two-game win streak while stopping 56 of 58 shots during that stretch but promptly allowed three goals on 11 shots in the first period against the Lightning on Thursday and got the hook. The Sabres have not revealed who will get the start today. (Update: The Sabres will start Ullmark this afternoon).
Keys to the Game
Win one for Miller. So far this season, Ryan Miller has been one of the leading candidates for team MVP. He's been the main reason the Canucks have been victorious on more than one occasion this season. With this game having added personal meaning, it's time for his teammates to step up and win one for him.
Special teams have to be better. Special teams could have helped the Canucks win on Wednesday but, instead, it cost them the game. Not only did they give up a PPG to snap a four-game perfect kill streak, but their own PP went 0-for-4 while giving up a backbreaker shorthanded. The Canucks need to be wary of Buffalo's strong PP, and take advantage of their porous PK.
Take away the breakouts. Team speed has been an area the Canucks have been lauded for this season but the Penguins found a way to prevent their breakouts and hem them in their own zone for long stretches. The Sabres will want to emulate the way the Pens took away one of the Canucks' best assets and find a way to clog things up.
Canucks Gameday Road Report, Presented by Toyota
By the Numbers
Wins for the Canucks this season in games coming off a regulation loss (0-0-2).
Win percentage for the Sabres this season when they give up three-or-more goals (1-7-0).
Win for the Canucks in their last five visits to Buffalo (1-2-2).
Time that Ryan Miller has faced the Sabres in his career. He beat them 5-2 in January at Rogers Arena.
Game point streak for Matt Bartkowski. He has never officially recorded a 3-game point streak (had a 3-game point streak Mar. 27-Apr. 4, 2014 which took place over 5-game stretch).
Goals scored by Jack Eichel this season, all at the First Niagara Center (three-game home goal streak).