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Game #67 Preview: Arizona vs. Buffalo

A rested Coyotes club looks to finish home stand with a winning record, sweep Sabres

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Game Preview

GAME #67: ARIZONA (31-27-8) vs. BUFFALO (29-27-8)

6:00 PM MST - Gila River Arena | Glendale, AZ

TV: Fox Sports Arizona Plus (Matt McConnell, Tyson Nash, Todd Walsh, Jody Jackson)

Radio: Fox Sports 910 AM Phoenix (Bob Heethuis, Paul Bissonnette)

Referees: Kendrick Nicholson #30, Steve Kozari #40

Linesmen: Andrew Smith #51, Travis Gawryletz #67

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ARIZONA VS. BUFFALO

The Coyotes tonight put the finishing touches on their three-game home stand as they get set to host the Buffalo Sabres at Gila River Arena, marking the second and final meeting between the teams this season.

In the midst of a light stretch in their schedule, one that calls for just two games over a span of 10 days, the Coyotes come into tonight's contest with a rejuvenated feel.

"We had a couple good practices, some guys could recharge their battery," said head coach Rick Tocchet. "It's one of those games where you leave it all on the ice, we've got another two days off after this, so you're looking for a lot of urgency from a lot of different guys."

The Coyotes are coming off of a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, scoring just once despite firing away for 38 shots.

"We were pretty good our last couple games, we just didn't bury our opportunities," Nick Schmaltz said. "I thought we generated a lot against Florida, it's about making sure we're getting to the net and bearing down on our chances."

The Sabres are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday and will be playing in a back-to-back scenario. Buffalo, 0-2-0 so far on its four-game Western road trip, has won five of its past eight games overall (5-3-0) and is clinging to its playoff hopes, sitting 10 points out of the Eastern Conference's final wild card playoff spot.

"They played Colorado well and they played Vegas well, they're a desperate team, enough said," Tocchet noted of the Sabres. "We've got to be ready to play."

Antti Raanta will make his 32nd start of the season, Tocchet shared following the optional morning skate. Raanta's .921 SV% is tied for the eighth-best mark in the NHL.

Jason Demers , who has missed the last 12 games due to a lower-body injury, is likely to return to the lineup tonight, though he has been tabbed as a game-time decision.

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THREE THINGS

POINTS AT A PREMIUM: The Western Conference's playoff race remains heavily saturated. Coming into the night, the Coyotes are two points back of the wild card cut-off line, with two teams (MIN, WPG) also jockeying for position. "It's so crucial," Nick Schmaltz said of pocketing points tonight. "The whole year, every game's big, but when you get down to the stretch run here we've got to take advantage of these points, especially here at home. Playing in front of our home crowd, we should be well rested for tonight, so hopefully we can bring a lot of energy."

AGAINST THE EAST: Three of the Coyotes' remaining 16 regular season games, including tonight's, will come against Eastern Conference opponents. Through 29 games against Eastern clubs, the Coyotes have posted a 14-13-2 record. Arizona is 6-7-1 against teams from the Atlantic Division and 8-6-1 against those from the Metropolitan Division. Following tonight's game against Buffalo (MET), the Coyotes' two remaining Eastern match-ups will come against the New York Rangers (MET) on March 14 and the Detroit Red Wings (ATL) on March 20.

TRIPLE-DIGITS: Head coach Rick Tocchet is just one win shy of earning his 100th with the Coyotes. Now in his third season leading Arizona's bench, Tocchet has led his rosters to an overall record of 99-103-28. Should the Coyotes win tonight, Tocchet would become just the fifth coach in franchise history to reach the 100-win mark, joining the likes of David Tippett, Bob Francis, Wayne Gretzky, and John Paddock.

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LAST TIME AROUND

OCTOBER 28, 2019 - ARIZONA (3) at BUFFALO (2) F/SO

The Coyotes countered after falling into an early 2-0 hole in the teams' previous meeting on October 28 at Buffalo's KeyBank Center, rallying for a 3-2 shootout win.

Following two Sabres goals in the first 11 minutes, Conor Garland cut Buffalo's lead in half late in the first period, while Carl Soderberg tied the game, 2-2, late in the second.

Nick Schmaltz scored the lone shootout goal.

Darcy Kuemper made 24 saves in regulation/overtime and denied all three of Buffalo's shootout attempts.

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NUMBER TO KNOW

SIXTY-EIGHT (68)

Oliver Ekman-Larsson enters tonight's game tied with Teppo Numminen for the most even-strength goals (67) by a defenseman in franchise history.

Should the Coyotes' captain find the back of the net during a five-on-five situation tonight, he would stand as the franchise's sole all-time leader in that category.

Ekman-Larsson has seven points (2G, 5A) in 15 career games against the Sabres, both of his goals in even-strength situations. Five of his seven goals this season have been scored during five-on-five play, the previous in a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers on January 7.

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QUICK HITS

  • Vinnie Hinostroza is one point shy of 100 for his NHL career (34G, 65A).
  • Phil Kessel has 47 points (23G, 24A) in 64 career games against the Sabres.
  • All-time Leap Day records: ARI (0-3-1-0), BUF (3-3-0).
  • Jack Eichel has 12 points (4G, 8A) in nine career games against the Coyotes.
  • The Coyotes' 427 PIMs are the fewest in the NHL.
  • Buffalo is 10-17-4 on the road this season.
  • Alex Goligoski is tied with Alex Pietrangelo (STL) for the second-most shifts taken in the NHL this season (1,822).
  • The Sabres are 6-4-1 this season in the second game of a back-to-back set.
  • Arizona owns a 26-46-7-2 all-time record against Buffalo.

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Lead Photo Credit: Christian Petersen - Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Norm Hall - NHLI via Getty Images // GIF Highlight Footage: Fox Sports Arizona

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