With seven wins in their last 10 games, the Minnesota Wild team that the Buffalo Sabres will host on Saturday afternoon at First Niagara is performing considerably better than the one that they beat in Minnesota on Jan. 12.
So, what's changed since John Torchetti replaced Mike Yeo as the Wild's coach on Feb. 13?
"Well I think they're playing differently, I don’t know if they're any different," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "You're looking at a team with speed and skill that can come at you throughout their lineup with that."
Indeed, the Wild have begun to live up to the talent level of its roster in recent games. While Minnesota isn’t scoring at quite the rate it was in the first four games under Torchetti (five goals or more in each), the Wild still lead the NHL with 37 goals since he took the helm.
Part of Minnesota's scoring prowess comes on the power play, where the Wild has five goals in the last five games as well as goals in a franchise-record 11 straight road contests.
Even after allowing a power-play goal in their win over Calgary on Thursday, the Sabres' penalty killers should have confidence in their ability to end Minnesota's road streak. The Sabres have gone 66-for-73 (90.4%) on the penalty kill in their last nine games and have ascended to eighth in the League at an 82.7 percent overall clip.
"I think one of the things about a good penalty kill is you step over the boards knowing you're going to kill the penalty off, knowing regardless that you're facing a good opponent, regardless if you're facing good power plays and the other team's best players, you're stepping over with a plan and a purpose and you're going to kill it," Bylsma said.
"I think you see that with our guys. I think even when it gets to a 5-on-3 or a 4-on-3, they have that swagger."
Even the absence of Ryan O'Reilly, who was Buffalo's top penalty killer alongside David Legwand, hasn't slowed them down. Marcus Foligno has stepped into a more prominent role and even came away with a shorthanded goal against Calgary, one of his three points on the night.
"I think what you're seeing in the last 15, 20 games is a good example of where Marcus can be at for a team, our team," Bylsma said. "He's been on a hard line, a checking line, a line that's been given an opportunity to be out against other team's top [lines] in a lot of situations and he's been a big-bodied, effective guy and I think learning to be a presence in the offensive zone and at the net."
Robin Lehner will make the start in net for Buffalo. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 19 Cal O'Reilly – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
43 Daniel Catenacci – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson