Things were going well for the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 4, the last time they last played at First Niagara Center. They won that night, 5-2 over the Arizona Coyotes, to push their point streak to four games. They had scored 18 goals in that stretch in which they were 3-0-1.
In the eight days since, the Sabres’ fortunes have taken a sharp turn. They were swept on a three-game road trip through Western Canada with losses to Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary, a trip they’ll look to put behind them when they return to their home ice on Saturday night.
“Obviously we weren’t playing in those three games like the previous ones,” forward Matt Moulson said. “Getting our forecheck going, making sure we get onto pucks – I mean in Calgary we started to do it in the third period, but it was too little too late.
“I think our goal is to come out of the gates like that so by the third period, we’ve worn them down.”
Buffalo will have to be on its game to beat the Los Angeles Kings, winners of their last six contests and currently in the midst of an eight-game point streak. Four of those wins have come in overtime or a shootout, the latter of which was required for a 3-2 win in Pittsburgh on Friday.
Coverage on Saturday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
“They’re playing some pretty good hockey,” Moulson said of the Kings. “They’re a team that works hard, that wears you down, but they also have skill and speed along with their cycle game … It’s going to be up to us to make sure we’re limiting turnovers, getting pucks deep and making sure we get a good start to the game in our own zone.”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that defeating L.A. will begin with his team addressing their own problems that plagued them on the recent road trip.
“I think that right now for us we need to look at our own game and look at how we play,” he said. “I think that’s where we’ve missed in the last three, four or five games – is that we haven’t been playing our game. We haven’t gotten to our game and we’ve been reactionary an awful lot. That’s a big part of it.”
Linus Ullmark, who is also looking for a reversal of fortunes, will start in net for the Sabres. After giving up four goals in Detroit on Dec. 1, he allowed five goals on 31 shots in the loss to Vancouver on Monday.
On Saturday, the goaltender said that he’s already pushed those losses out of his mind.
“Well, you’ve just got to stop thinking about it, obviously,” he said. “It’s always going to [become] a new day; sun’s going to go up the next day too. What happened happened and, you know, there’s 82 games in a season. You can’t just focus on three games and have them in your mind all the time.”
To get back on track, Bylsma said, Ullmark simply needs to reclaim the consistency that made him dependable early on after his recall in late October.
“Linus has the ability to be a game changer and can make the spectacular save and he has done that in his last starts,” the coach said. “He’s gotten away from being consistent in the net throughout the 60-minute game … His last game, he had three or four outstanding saves, probably had one he’ definitely like to have back and that’s something he’s obviously got to sharpen up tonight.”
The most noticeable lineup change at the morning skate on Saturday was Moulson’s placement on a line alongside Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, a move that Bylsma said is meant to put the forward in better position to score near the front of the net.
“Matt does his best work in the house, in the offensive zone,” Bylsma said. “That’s where he needs to get to and where he needs to be to be productive for us. He should get that opportunity with those two guys and their speed and their ability to lug the puck.”
Moulson will play the left wing, moving Kane to the right of Eichel. Here’s how the rest of the Sabres lineup projects for Saturday:
88 Jamie McGinn – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
26 Matt Moulson – 15 Jack Eichel – 9 Evander Kane
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 82 Marcus Foligno
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
35 Linus Ullmark
31 Chad Johnson