CALGARY, AB — Thursday’s match-up between the Calgary Flames and the Buffalo Sabres will be one between two very similar teams.
Both teams are filled with young, up and coming stars. They give up lots of goals, and they have almost identical records.
Buffalo sits one point ahead of the Flames, but Calgary has a game in hand.
The Sabres are coming off of two straight losses on their Western road swing. They dropped a contest with the Edmonton Oilers, 4-2 on Sunday, and then fell 5-2 to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
With a couple days off between games, the Sabres will be well rested when they hit the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome.
This is perhaps the worst time for an opponent to come visit Calgary. The Flames have rattled off seven straight wins at the ‘Dome and have won their last three games, while looking a lot like years playoff team.
With off-season acquisition goaltender Robin Lehner on the IR, rookie Linus Ullmark and veteran Chad Johnson have split time between the pipes. While Ullmark has struggled recently, Johnson has won three of his last four starts.
Regardless, the Sabres will be relying on their offence to beat the Flames. In particular, their top line, led by centre Ryan O’Reilly, will be a big factor for the Sabres.
2015 vs. the Flames: 0-0-0
All-Time vs. the Flames: 49-35-1
Vs. the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome: 18-22-0
Notable Injuries: G Robin Lehner, D Mark Pysyk, F Tyler Ennis
Who’s HOT: Ryan O’Reilly
After being traded to Buffalo from Colorado in the off-season, O’Reilly has stepped up for the Sabres. He leads the team in scoring with nine goals and 14 assists. At his current pace, the Clinton, ON, native will finish the season with 67 points. That mark would best his career high of 64. Skating alongside Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart, the Sabres top line has been very good.
Honourable Mention: Jack Eichel
The much-heralded prospect from Boston University was selected second overall by the Sabres in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. As a rookie, he has been one of Buffalo’s top scorers. He sits third on the team in scoring with 14 points (9g, 5a). Often talked about synonymously with Connor McDavid, the centre has some very high expectations. On one of the lower scoring team’s in the league, he has been a spark plug on the second line.
Who’s NOT: Zemgus Girgensons
The man who led all NHLers in All-Star votes with 1,574,896 last season is now in the midst of his worst statistical season. Having only registered two goals and three assists in 24 games, the Latvian centre is only on pace for 17 points -- a total that would be his lowest in the NHL in his short career. The former 2012 first round pick (14th overall) will need to raise his 4.7-percent shooting percentage if he hopes to reach double-digit goals for the second straight season.