NEW YORK - Anders Nilsson will start in net for the Buffalo Sabres tonight at Madison Square Garden as they look to kick off the 2017 calendar year with a victory. It's the second time the Sabres and New York Rangers will meet this season, with Buffalo taking the first game by a 4-3 decision back on Dec. 1.
The Sabres were looking like a healthy squad back then as Jack Eichel skated in his second of game the season and scored twice in the third period to give Buffalo the win.
Video: PREVIEW: BUF at NYR
This time around, Buffalo will be without Ryan O'Reilly (appendectomy) and Johan Larsson (dislocated wrist and elbow) down the middle. That will put added pressure on Buffalo's group of centermen: Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and Derek Grant.
"Every center's role increases a little bit. It's never easy to see other guys out," Girgensons said. "It's sad to see them to be in that position, but everyone else has to step up and fill those roles."
Girgensons will take on more defensive responsibilities in the absence of Buffalo's other two-way centers.
Brian Duff has a look at what Buffalo - and particularly Eichel and Reinhart - will be up against tonight against a fast Rangers squad so expect that video shortly. Eichel has at least a point in each of his four career games against the Rangers, totaling six points (2+4) in those games.
In the meantime, here's what coach Dan Bylsma had to say about how his team played in that last head-to-head matchup.
Video: BYLSMA: Pregame Interview
"We gave up two power-play goals in that game, but no question, the last 40 minutes of hockey was our best 40 minutes of the year," he said. "We got the good start with the fortunate bounce and got up in that game. But the 40 minutes for sure was exactly how we need to play and probably our most dominant of the year."
The fortunate bounce was a long-rage deflection from Larsson that got Buffalo off on the right foot.
Video: Eichel powers Sabres to 4-3 comeback win in Buffalo
"We had a fast pace right off the bat. We got a good bounce right off the start and that's the way we need to play," Girgensons said. "If we can get the puck out of our end real quick [tonight], I think that's going to be the key."
A win tonight would give the Sabres wins in consecutive visits to Madison Square Garden for the first time since Dec. 12, 2009 and March 7, 2010. It would also be the first time Buffalo has won three straight games against the Rangers since Dec. 12, 2009 to April 6, 2010.
Kyle Okposo has 14 points (4+10) in his last 12 games against the Rangers, including at least a point in his last five (2+6). He has failed to tally a point in only one of his seven visits to Madison Square Garden since the beginning of 2013-14, totaling 10 road points (3+7) in that span.
Brian Gionta has 14 points (7+7) in his last 15 games against the Rangers, including a point in each of his last four.
Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start for the Rangers.
Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight and you can watch it on NBCSN. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the call on WGR 550.
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 23 Sam Reinhart - 56 Justin Bailey
48 William Carrier - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Justin Falk - 6 Cody Franson
31 Anders Nilsson
40 Robin Lehner
Bylsma said that making a recall is still possible for the trip. While he declared the lineup a gametime decision, the Sabres aren't currently carrying any healthy bodies as extras. On the blue line, Buffalo is missing Dmitry Kulikov, who is dealing with a lower-back injury and did not make the trip to New York. So a player from Rochester could be brought up as insurance.