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Smith expected to make NHL debut vs. Lightning

Forward likely to play after signing contract Monday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Dalton Smith is expected to make his NHL debut when the Buffalo Sabres close their season series with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at KeyBank Center.

Smith practiced on a line with Curtis Lazar and Jimmy Vesey on Monday after signing a one-year, two-way deal to join Buffalo. We detailed his long journey from second-round pick to 2010 to the NHL in yesterday's practice report. 

"There's a good chance he'll be in our lineup today," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "We're still making a final decision. Planning to warmup with 13 forwards and make that final call. There's a good chance we'll see him. 

"It's an opportunity for us to get to know him. As he missed training camp, it's good to run him through all the different stages of becoming a part of our group."

Video: PREGAME: Krueger

Smith, 27, was a member of the Lightning organization during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. He was teammates with current Lightning forwards Brayden Point, Cedric Paquette, and Yanni Gourde with AHL Syracuse.  

In fact, Smith played his first game for Syracuse against Rochester on March 8, 2014, following a midseason trade from Columbus. He fought then Amerks forward Tim Schaller just 2:38 into the contest. Johan Larsson (who scored two goals) and Rasmus Ristolainen were in the lineup for Rochester. 

Krueger said the remainder of the lineup will resemble what the Sabres ran in practice on Monday. Here's what they could go with tonight, subject to change:

68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
43 Conor Sheary - 90 Marcus Johansson - 74 Rasmus Asplund
67 Dalton Smith - 27 Curtis Lazar - 13 Jimmy Vesey

19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 62 Brandon Montour
6 Marco Scandella - 10 Henri Jokiharju 

Linus Ullmark is expected to start in net. He's won five of his last six games at KeyBank Center, posting a .928 save percentage in those games. 


Eichel reacts to All-Star nod

Jack Eichel was selected to represent the Sabres at All-Star Weekend for the third straight season on Monday. He credited his teammates with helping him put together what's been his best statistical start to a season in his career. 

"It was a big honor, a lot of guys to credit and stuff," he said. "I've been playing with a lot of good players here, the beneficiary of a lot of good hockey plays. So, it's a huge honor."

Rasmus Dahlin is Buffalo's candidate to be voted in as the Atlantic Division's Last Man In. Voting opens Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. and closes Friday, Jan. 10 at 11:59 p.m. 


Scouting the Lightning

This will be the fourth and final matchup between the Sabres and Lightning this season. The Lightning swept the NHL Global Series in Stockholm, Sweden on Nov. 8 and 9 and then earned a 5-2 victory in Tampa Bay on Nov. 25. 

Though the results have favored Tampa Bay, the 5-on-5 play has been close to even. Shot attempts at 5-on-5 are 128-126 in favor of the Sabres; goals are 7-6 Lightning. 

The difference has been special teams. The Lighting's top-ranked power play has gone 4-for-11. The Sabres have gone 0-for-8 and allowed a pair of shorthanded goals in the most recent meeting. 

"We'll be tested defensively here for sure, and we need to confirm the defense we've been playing of late, but need to add to the offense and hoping the power play takes that lead," Krueger said. "Not necessarily in scoring, but in its habits and the way it executes and how it performs. 

"We will always feel that momentum into our 5-on-5 game, so we need that to happen tonight to finish 2019 with a game we're really proud of. That's what we see tonight here."

Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to start in net for Tampa Bay.


Numbers to know 

•    100 - Sam Reinhart leads the season series against the Lightning with five points, including four goals. He enters the contest one goal shy of 100 for his career. 

•    3 - Gourde has tallied the winning goal in all three games between the Sabres and Lightning this season. 


Tune in 

Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7. 

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