If you look at the records in their last 10 games, the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers are mirror images of one another. Both teams lost big coming out of the All-Star break on Tuesday. Both are 3-2-0 in their last five games; both are 5-5-0 in their last 10.
What the two teams are trying to accomplish in order to get back on track when they meet at KeyBank Center on Thursday, however, is vastly different. For the Rangers, it's a long, fast, up-and-down game. For the Sabres, it's the simple, north-south, forechecking game that has led them to victory both time the two teams have met this season.
Video: Preview: NYR at BUF (02/02/17)
Despite experiencing their worst month of the season in January (5-5-0), the Rangers are still second in the League with an average of 3.38 goals per game, led by Michael Grabner (22 goals) and Chris Kreider (19 goals).
"The game the Rangers want to play and do play and what makes them an effective team is they play a long game, a speed game," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "The success that Kreider's having scoring goals and Grabner's having scoring goals is evidence of that and how they play.
"That's really the challenge of playing them, you've got to take away that long game, you've got to take away their speed which they use really well. We've done a good job of not necessarily slowing the game down but playing an offensive-zone game against them."
Simplicity was a key when the Sabres beat the Rangers 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 3. They moved the puck up the ice efficiently, forechecked hard and waited to prey on New York's mistakes. It was the same qualities they lacked in their game against Montreal on Tuesday, a 5-2 loss in which it was the Sabres who were committing turnovers rather than forcing them.
"They're a fast team that thrives off your turning the puck over," said Jack Eichel, who has scored three goals in two games against the Rangers this season. "The few times we've played them we've done a good job of going north with it, getting it behind their D and playing in their zone and allowing them to make mistakes. Just more of the same tonight."
In talking about the Rangers, Sabres defenseman Justin Falk pointed out that their long game doesn't necessarily always to constitute tape-to-tape passes. They might also utilize long flip passes or other ways of putting the puck in an area where forwards can skate into it as they move up the ice. To prevent such plays, Bylsma said it's up to his first two forwards into the offensive zone to limit the time and space of the New York defensemen.
Falk also pointed out that forechecking in such a way requires taking care of things on the defensive end.
"If we can limit the amount of time we play in our D-zone … Teams [with] some fast forwards can be cycling and all that, next thing you know you spend 23 seconds in your end and you don't have the energy to transition, to get it out, to get a proper forecheck the other way," he said.
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. He'll be opposed by Henrik Lundqvist, who has started both of the previous matchups between the two teams this season.
The game can be seen live on NBCSN, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m., or you can listen live on WGR 550.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased here. The Sabres will be looking for their fifth win in a row at KeyBank Center.
Bylsma announced that Nicolas Deslauriers will enter the lineup in place of Cal O'Reilly and center the fourth line. While Deslauriers hasn't played center before, Bylsma said his history as a defenseman should serve him well in assuming the position.
"He's been a defenseman, is a defenseman in the past, comfortable down low, comfortable going back for pucks," the coach said.
When defensive-zone draws occur, expect to see Eichel or Ryan O'Reilly fill in and play double shifts. Tyler Ennis and William Carrier, expected to play on the line with Deslauriers, both have history at the center position as well.
Here's how the full lineup might look tonight, based off lines in practice on Wednesday.
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 63 Tyler Ennis
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson