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Game Preview | 5 things to know ahead of Sabres at Predators

Okposo, Tuch to return from COVID protocol

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Alex Tuch and Kyle Okposo will both return to the lineup for the Sabres as they open a two-game road trip tonight against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. 

Tuch and Okposo each missed three games after being placed in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. The duo returned to the ice for an optional morning skate on Tuesday and were full participants in practice on Wednesday. 

Coverage on MSG begins at 7:30 p.m. The puck drops at 8. 

Here are five things to know. 

 

1. The lineup

In addition to Tuch and Okposo, defenseman Robert Hagg will return from a seven-game absence stemming from a lower-body injury. Forward Brett Murray and defenseman Will Butcher will be scratched to clear room in the lineup.

Here's how the group lined up at the morning skate, according to The Buffalo News.

January 13 at Nashville
LW C RW
53 Jeff Skinner 24 Dylan Cozens 89 Alex Tuch
74 Rasmus Asplund 17 Mark Jankowski 71 Victor Olofsson
29 Vinnie Hinostroza 28 Zemgus Girgensons 21 Kyle Okposo
96 Anders Bjork 20 Cody Eakin 15 John Hayden
LD RD G
26 Rasmus Dahlin 10 Henri Jokiharju 80 Aaron Dell
8 Robert Hagg 33 Colin Miller 32 Michael Houser
78 Jacob Bryson 13 Mark Pysyk  

 

2. Dell to start in goal

Aaron Dell will make his first NHL start since Dec. 2. The 32-year-old is 0-5-0 with Buffalo this season but has won all five of his starts with Rochester, including two since his most recent reassignment on Dec. 14. 

"I feel like I'm starting to get into a bit of a groove," he said. "I mean, with the last few years, I haven't been playing a ton of games and I think getting that game experience back in the last little while has really helped me get back to where I want to be."

The Sabres announced Wednesday that goaltenders Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (lower body; week to week) and Malcolm Subban (upper body; month to month) would both miss time with injuries sustained during Tuesday's loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Buffalo is now down four goaltenders due to injuries or illness. Craig Anderson remains month to month with the upper-body injury he sustained on Nov. 3 while Dustin Tokarski is out indefinitely due to lingering symptoms of COVID-19. Tokarski has been practicing since Dec. 27.

The Sabres are moving forward in the meantime with the tandem of Dell and Michael Houser, both of whom were recalled from Rochester on Wednesday. Houser, previously on an AHL contract, signed an NHL deal for the remainder of the season. 

Video: PREGAME: Granato

 

3. Righting the ship

The Sabres are 0-4-1 since returning from 11-day layoff with no games. Thirteen players have missed games due to COVID-19 during that span: forwards Tuch, Anders Bjork, Dylan Cozens, Jeff Skinner, Okposo, Mark Jankowski, Peyton Krebs, Tage Thompson, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Zemgus Girgensons; defensemen Jacob Bryson and Casey Fitzgerald, and one goaltender in Tokarski.

Only three of those players (Krebs, Thompson, and Tokarski) remain absent with the additions of Okposo and Tuch. Okposo ranks third on the Sabres with 21 points (7+14). Tuch tallied three points (1+2) in as many games after making his season debut on Dec. 29. 

"They've been on the ice for four days now, so it's exciting to have them back in," Sabres coach Don Granato said. "They're both big, big parts."

 

4. Krebs still in isolation

Granato said that Krebs, who entered protocol on Jan. 4, is not currently experiencing symptoms but remains in isolation. Players who test positive and are not experiencing symptoms are able to exit isolation after five days if they meet testing requirements.

"It's really unfortunate," Granato said. "We've been hoping the last four days now that he would test out based on how he's feeling but it hasn't happened. It's one of those unpredictable things."

 

5. Scouting the Predators

Nashville has been one of the NHL's surprise teams this season, sitting atop the Central Division while ranking eighth with 2.65 goals allowed per game. 

Goaltender Juuse Saros has been a key ingredient to that success. The 26-year-old is tied for the NHL lead with 20 wins. He has amassed 17.70 goals save above average at all strengths (according to Natural Stat Trick), which ranks third behind Jack Campbell and Tristan Jarry.

Roman Josie leads the Predators with 37 points (12+25), second to Victor Hedman among NHL defensemen. Filip Forsberg, who is in COVID protocol, has a team-high 18 goals. 

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