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Sharpen Up: February 22, 2017

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

It's a game day in Buffalo.

No, the bye week isn't over for the Sabres, but the Rochester Americans will do their best to fill that void in your life when they host the Utica Comets tonight at KeyBank Center. Tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. faceoff, or you can catch the game live on MSG. 

We'll get to the NHL scores from last night in a bit, but first let's talk about a few things you'll want to keep an eye on when watching the Amerks tonight.


1. The familiar faces

If you're used to watching the Sabres, you should be more than comfortable recognizing plenty of players on the Amerks roster. Specifically, Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Evan Rodrigues were just sent down when Buffalo broke for the bye week on Monday.

All three of those players produced in different capacities for the Sabres, but they've been three of Rochester's most productive players while in the AHL this season. Bailey is only a month removed from a seven-game goal scoring streak - the longest such streak in the League this season - during which he compiled nine goals and two assists. He and Baptiste are tied for the team lead with 19 goals, while Rodrigues ranks fifth on the team with 27 points (9+18).

Those three aren't the only familiar faces you'll see. Cole Schneider and Cal O'Reilly have both played games for Buffalo this season, and they lead Rochester with 44 and 39 points, respectively. Taylor Fedun, meanwhile, is back in Rochester after playing 25 games for the Sabres this season.

Last but not least, who can forget Linus Ullmark? The goalie was an AHL All-Star this season and is tied for fourth in the League with 19 wins.


2. Alex Nylander

Buffalo's first-round draft pick from 2016 is still adjusting to being a pro at age 18, but there's no denying his raw talent. Remember development camp?

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: There's a reason his Twitter handle is @snipeshow98. Second goal of the game for Nylander.

Since then, Nylander scored a tournament high 12 points (5+7) at the World Junior Championship in January and has compiled 21 points (6+15) in 46 games for the Amerks. He'd hit a bit of a scoring lull as of late, but did find the back of the net in Rochester's most recent game on Sunday.


3. The opponent

Hey, we're all hockey fans, right? The Utica Comets are the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks and are led in scoring by Alexandre Grenier, a third-round pick from 2011 who has scored 38 points (15+23) in 50 games this season. 

A few prospects to keep an eye on: Jake Virtanen is a first-round pick (sixth overall) from 2014 playing in his first full professional season. He's scored 11 points (5+6) in 41 games. Goalie Thatcher Demko was drafted by Vancouver in the second round that year, and he too is an AHL rookie.

Defenseman Jordan Subban, a fourth-round pick in 2014 and the brother of P.K. and Malcolm Subban, has scored 27 points (12+15) in 44 games this season.

Now, on to the NHL.


Scoreboard watching

Last night's scores weren't kind to the Sabres, to put it frankly. Toronto came back in the third period against Winnipeg and went on to win on Jake Gardiner's goal in overtime, advancing to third in the Atlantic Division with 67 points. 

Meanwhile, Ottawa overcame a slew of injuries to beat New Jersey, the Islanders earned a road win in Detroit and Tampa Bay won big over Edmonton. 

Buffalo now sits five points back from Toronto for third in the division (Toronto has one game in hand) and four points back from Florida, Boston and the Islanders for the second wild card spot. The Sabres are also one point behind Philadelphia and tied with Tampa Bay.

The Panthers, who have two games in hand on the Sabres, will host Edmonton tonight while Philadelphia and Boston, both with one game in hand, are in action against Washington and Anaheim, respectively. 


Gionta travel blog

If you missed it yesterday, Sabres captain Brian Gionta discussed the bye week and Buffalo's recent schedule in our latest entry to the CTMS Travel Blog. You can find it here. 


On Tap

Dan Dunleavy will have a blog posted to the site this afternoon, so be on the lookout for that. Check back for tomorrow's Sharpen Up for postgame reaction following the Amerks' game in Buffalo tonight. 

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