OTTAWA - Before they head home for the holiday break, the Buffalo Sabres have one last game to take care of against the Ottawa Senators tonight at Canadian Tire Centre.
Coming off a 3-2 victory at home over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, coach Ralph Krueger expressed confidence that his team was focused on the task at hand following their game day meeting.
"We're all feeling that opportunity and your families are pulling you in that direction, of course, so that's the human side of it," Krueger said. "But Ottawa has that too, so I think the key for us beginning here with this morning session that we've had is to just - as we have been doing all year - is just making that picture really small and taking care of our next task, whatever that is: the next shift, the next period, and so on and just build the game here tonight.
"But I feel a hunger here in the group to build on that L.A. game. I thought it was one that gave us a lot of energy. Against a division rival like this, it's a lot of fun to have this one here tonight."
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
Linus Ullmark - owner of a 7-1-1 record in his last nine starts - will be in net for the Sabres. Ullmark is undefeated in two career starts against the Senators, including the Sabres' 4-2 win in Buffalo on Nov. 16.
That last meeting will be remembered as the launching pad for what has been the most productive stretch of Jack Eichel's career. After scoring all four goals for the Sabres that night, Eichel has recorded at least a point in each of the 17 games he's played since, tying Gilbert Perreault for the longest personal point streak in franchise history. He leads the NHL with 16 goals and 32 in that span.
Eichel has 23 points (9+14) in 14 career games against Ottawa, his highest output against any opponent. Senators coach D.J. Smith spoke highly of the Sabres captain while addressing the media this morning.
"What I saw in Buffalo the last time we played them, that speed and that ability, might be the best I've seen since I've around the NHL in the last five years," Smith said. "His explosiveness in a 1-on-1 situation is really hard to contain, so you're going to need more than one guy. You're going to have to make him go through all five every time if you want to shut him down."
Beyond Ullmark, the rest of the Buffalo lineup will be revealed during warmups.
Scouting the Senators
As we've already covered, Eichel leads the NHL with 16 goals since the Sabres and Senators last met. The guy right behind him is Senators forward Anthony Duclair, who has 15 goals in that same timeframe.
Duclair's red-hot scoring touch has been a factor in what's been a strong stretch for the Senators of late, having earned at least a point in six of their last seven games (3-1-3). Another is the workload of 22-year-old defenseman Thomas Chabot, who, in the absence of regulars Dylan DeMelo and Nikita Zaitsev, has skated 33-plus minutes in each of their past three games.
"They've definitely improved as a group," Krueger said. "You can see the coaching coming through, watching especially their last few games. We see better habits in their execution, and we're expecting a really tight game tonight. They're a dangerous, hardworking team with a lot of strong individual players."
Craig Anderson will start in net for the Senators. It will be his first appearance since sustaining an injury on Dec. 7.
• Victor Olofsson enters the contest riding a six-game point streak. He's only the second Sabres rookie to have two such streaks in a single season, joining John Tucker (1984-85).
• Rasmus Ristolainen has nine points (2+7) in Buffalo's last 12 games, including the tying goal against Los Angeles on Saturday. His plus-11 rating in that span ranks fourth in the NHL.
Coverage on MSG begins at 7 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30.