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Criscuolo to make NHL debut in Buffalo's 1st game at Little Caesars Arena

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

DETROIT - After a little over a year in the Detroit Red Wings organization that included a Calder Cup championship with their AHL affiliate, Kyle Criscuolo will make his NHL debut tonight in Detroit. But he'll be do so wearing a Buffalo Sabres uniform. 

Criscuolo, who signed a two-year contract with the Sabres in July following his stint in Detroit, received his first-ever recall yesterday and will be in the lineup for Buffalo at Little Caesars Arena. He's slated to center a line with Zemgus Girgensons and Jordan Nolan.

Through 14 games with the Rochester Americans this year, Criscuolo is tied for the team lead with 11 points (5+6). 

"Last year, I was just trying to pave my way in the AHL and develop every day," he said. "I don't have any hard feelings toward them in any way. It was a decision I had to make in the summer, where I wanted to go, and this was the best spot for me.

"…I'm just going to try to bring speed and grit and play hard. I want to bring a 200-foot game and try to outwork the other guy next to me and win 1-on-1 battles the best I can."

Video: Preview: BUF at DET (11/17/17)

And now he'll have his parents, his brother, his sister, his girlfriend and some friends in attendance to watch him play in his first NHL game.  

"They're pretty thrilled. My mom and dad are obviously ecstatic," he said. "It's always cool to get the family back together on the road or somewhere fun and to have it come around on my first game is pretty special."

The GMC Game Night pregame show is slated to start at 7 p.m. on MSG. RJ and Rayzor will have the call just after 7:30 in the first-ever Sabres game at the new Little Caesars Arena. You can also listen to the game on WGR 550. 

New rink, same lively boards?

Video: Pregame: HOUSLEY

Joe Louis Arena was infamous for its boards having a little extra spring in them. After a quick inspection during the morning skate today, Sabres coach Phil Housley and a few of the players have noticed that the new boards at Little Caesars Arena carry some of The Joe's DNA.

"You can see that the boards are very lively," Housley said. "I know Detroit scored a goal last game against Calgary where they threw it off an end board from the defensive blue line."

Housley noted that having awareness up ice will be critical tonight so that the Sabres aren't caught flatfooted if a puck does ricochet by them.

Robin Lehner, tonight's expected starter, was impressed with the new arena and is anticipating a little jump in the boards as well.

"They were pretty bouncy, but I think every arena is pretty different. There are certain arenas that are a lot bouncier than others. This was fairly bouncy," he said. "Pucks were coming off pretty fast from the boards. It's a very nice rink."

His last game against Detroit was a 1-0 shutout victory at home back on Oct. 24. Since joining the Sabres, Lehner is 3-1-1 against the Red Wings with a .961 save percentage and a 1.38 goals-against average.

Searching for consistency

Buffalo, however, is coming off two overtime losses in which they surrendered a one-goal lead in the third period of each game. 

"A good performance doesn't really give you anything. It doesn't give you anything in our standings and doesn't contribute towards our goal. It doesn't help us off the ice, either," Lehner said. "We've got to find ways. Trust me, it's miserable not winning games. 

"…There's a lot of competition in this league and that's why there's such a small margin for error. That's why details matter in this league. You expect every team to have a hard compete level. That's basic. Everyone going out working, we get paid a lot of money to go out and work hard. Working hard isn't enough. 

"That should be a standard, but when you look at the good teams, it's all about patience, sticking to their game plan, sticking to what the coach implements, but also doing it shift after shift, period after period. 

"Of course you're going to have let-downs, but if you do the right things for a long period of time, you get rewarded. And when you don't, you start taking it into your own hands and you don't. It's definitely frustrating, but we've got to keep learning."

They're 5-9-4 overall on the season and 4-4-2 in their last 10, including those back-to-back overtime losses.

"It's .500 hockey as of late. We win one, we lose on, we win two, lose two. It's frustrating, but you've just got to stay positive more than anything," defenseman Jake McCabe said. "You've got to go over video sessions, learn from our mistakes, look at our positive clips and take the positives out of that, and learn from that, really. 

"Building off that comes with building up confidence. Confidence is a major key in this league and we just need to string a few together here to get that confidence and that good feeling in the room. It starts tonight."

Housley noted that he'd like to see one specific improvement from his club when the next overtime game rolls around - and it starts right as the puck is being dropped. Buffalo has lost the opening faceoff in each of its five overtime sessions this season. 

"That first draw would be really nice to win. Then you can get the possession and maintain the possession and set an attack in that regard," he said. "That would be the first thing looking into overtime and then obviously, overtime - mainly 3-on-3 - you're manning your check and having an awareness of where your check is at all times.
"You can't blink because they've got some speed over there and we've got really manage that area because if you let them go and get ahead of you, they're going to make plays."

Projected lineup

9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
25 Seth Griffith - 22 Johan Larsson - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 51 Kyle Criscuolo - 17 Jordan Nolan

6 Marco Scandella - 41 Justin Falk
19 Jake McCabe - 82 Nathan Beaulieu
4 Josh Gorges - 93 Victor Antipin

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson

Scratches: 8 Casey Nelson, 26 Matt Moulson

Housley said that Falk is a game-time decision after the defenseman was given yesterday's practice off for maintenance. Nelson would draw in if Falk is unable to play. 

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