DALLAS - The last time the Buffalo Sabres played the Dallas Stars, the Sabres came away with a 4-0 victory and handed the Stars their sixth loss in their first seven games. Dallas opened the season 1-7-1, but has really turned things around since that Oct. 14 matchup at KeyBank Center.
Now, the Stars sit in second place in the Western Conference with 58 points and a record of 27-15-4. They're 7-3-0 in their last 10 and Buffalo is aware of the challenge that awaits them Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
"It's a whole different ballgame than it was three months ago when we played them," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "They're second in the Western Conference and on a very high pace. So we're going to be tested. We need to play our best game here tonight for sure."
Stars goaltender Ben Bishop is 12-1-1 in his career against Buffalo with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage.
While Bishop presents his challenges, Sabres forward Kyle Okposo credited the way the Stars play in front of him as a big reason for their success. However, the last time out, the Sabres were able to beat Bishop four times on 22 shots.
"We played a really good game obviously. We know it's going to be a completely different game tonight," Okposo said. "They're rolling really well."
Linus Ullmark will start in goal for Buffalo. While he has yet to beat the Stars (he's 0-3-0 in three career games), he boasts a 1.72 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage against them. Ullmark is seeking his 16th win of the season, which would be a personal best.
Faceoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET with pregame coverage on MSG starting at 8. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the call on MSG and WGR 550.
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
Yesterday's Ice Level Practice Report looked at two players who are filling different, but important roles for the Sabres. Rasmus Ristolainen has established himself as a solid net-front presence on the power play while Curtis Lazar has been turning in reliable, hard-working performances at center.
Thursday morning, Lazar was asked about his feeling on being rewarded with more minutes.
"This is kind of the first chance where it's actually been true. Coaches always say that they're going to reward hard work and guys that are playing the right way, but I've never had that," he said. "You go into games and you're feeling great, and you end up with five-and-a-half, six [minutes], and like what could have been?
"Here's it completely different. You roll with the guys that are going and I know some nights that's going to be me and some nights it's not. We have a great group of guys here and everyone is capable of stepping up and filling those minutes. It's a good feeling."
With players like Jeff Skinner, Victor Olofsson and Vladimir Sobotka out for extended periods of time due to injury, Krueger has found ways to get the most out of players no matter what role they're asked to play. Lazar is one example of that.
"The injuries that we have give people opportunity to step into bigger spaces," Krueger said. "More than anything, he has embraced what needs to be done here, whether it's penalty killing responsibility where he's been one of our better penalty killers for sure since he's been here, but also the intensity that we need sometimes on faceoffs to be able to close games properly.
"He just has a very responsible game that's also still being nurtured and being grown. I see him also as somebody who can still develop quite a bit in that role with us and just be an example without the puck, every day, every night, every shift. He's attempting to do that right now and he's getting better all the time."
Dads on the trip
Video: FATHERS MEETING
For the games in Dallas and Nashville this week, the players have been afforded the opportunity to bring along a family member to see the ins and outs of life in the NHL from an extremely unique perspective.
"It's a trip that's always circled on the calendar every year," Okposo, whose father-in-law is on the trip, said. "It's something they get to really enjoy, see what goes on behind the scenes of our day to day, so we're going to let the dads have a good time and we definitely enjoy having them here."
Check out a photo gallery that will continue to be updated throughout the weekend.