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Sharpen Up: January 3, 2017

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Josh Gorges called it "gut-check time."

The Buffalo Sabres, coming off of back-to-back losses against Boston, begin a two-game road trip against two of the League's perennial powerhouses tonight when they face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. After that, it's off to Chicago to face the Blackhawks. Both games will be nationally televised, with puck drop for tonight's game set for 7 p.m. on NBCSN. 

Here's what you need to know on a game day in New York.


Dealing with injuries

The strength of their opponents isn't the only gut-check aspect of this road trip for the Sabres; they'll also be tasked with winning minus Ryan O'Reilly and Johan Larsson, the two centermen they rely upon most in the defensive zone. O'Reilly is still recovering from the appendectomy he underwent during the Christmas break, while Larsson is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a dislocated wrist and elbow.

The absence of O'Reilly and Larsson will mean an increase in the matchup responsibilities for Buffalo's other centermen, namely Jack Eichel and Zemgus Girgensons. Dan Bylsma said that Girgensons will assume Larsson's checking role, while Eichel will have to face whoever the Rangers and Blackhawks throw out there with those teams having the last line change in the upcoming two games.

"It changes the situation fairly dramatically in terms of matchups and situations, especially on the road for these two games," the Sabres coach said. "Zemgus will kind of assume the position Lars was in - a little bit of the defensive situations, he'll be favored playing in. And Jack's going to get the matchup against whoever they see fit. On the road, that's going to be the challenge for him."

You can catch Bylsma's full comments below.

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

Chris Ryndak has the full report on the situation at center from Monday's practice, which you can read here. Here's how the lines looked at that practice:

82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 23 Sam Reinhart - 56 Justin Bailey
48 William Carrier - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson

4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 47 Zach Bogosian 
41 Justin Falk - 6 Cody Franson


On the Rangers

The Rangers have won their last three games, thanks in no small part to their recent success on the power play. New York is 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) over that three-game stretch and 28-for-121 (23.1 percent) on the season, good for fourth in the NHL.

You'll also want to watch for the line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, who have combined for 22 points (9+13) over the last four games. 

The game tonight will be the second of three meetings between the Sabres and Rangers, with the two teams set to conclude their season series in Buffalo on Feb. 2. The Sabres won the first matchup on home ice on Dec. 1, a game best remembered for Jack Eichel doing this ...

Video: NYR@BUF: Eichel buries a nifty PPG from the circle

And this ...

Video: NYR@BUF: Eichel puts Sabres ahead with slick moves


Who's hot?

Sam Reinhart enters tonight's game on a career-best six-game point streak (2+5). Reinhart also matched his season high with five shots on goal in 21:02 of ice time in Boston on Saturday.

Rasmus Ristolainen also recorded an assist in that game, giving him 16 points (3+13) in his last 14 games. Brian Duff caught up with Ristolainen following practice on Monday, which you can catch below in his Sabres in :90 practice report:

Video: Sabres in :90 (1/2/17)


World Junior Update

Buffalo's two Swedish prospects had another big day on Monday, with Alexander Nylander recording a goal and an assist and Rasmus Asplund tallying four assists in Sweden's 8-3 quarterfinal victory over Slovakia. 

Nylander leads the tournament in scoring with 11 points (5+6), while Asplund's seven points (1+6) ranks second on Team Sweden. Sweden will play Canada in the semifinal round on Wednesday.

Defenseman Casey Fitzgerald and Team USA, meanwhile, also earned a quarterfinal victory over Switzerland and will face Russia in their semifinal matchup on Wednesday. You can get a more comprehensive report on both games in Kris Baker's full recap of Monday's action.


On tap

Ryndak and Duff (name a more iconic duo) are on hand in New York and will provide updates following the Sabres' morning skate at MSG. We'll also have our weekly Amerks update posted to the website this afternoon.

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