Greetings from Buffalo, where the Wild will get its week going against the homestanding Sabres ... and when we say homestanding, we mean homestanding -- the Sabres are in the midst of a seven-game stretch of games on home ice that began last Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks and will continue through the 15th of February, a span of more than half the month.
Random fact: The Sabres won't leave the Eastern Time Zone until March 6. The Wild will have left the Central Time Zone twice in a span of five days once it comes back to the Empire State this weekend for a double-dip against the Devils and Islanders.
The Wild will play four games this week, beginning tonight at KeyBank Center. It returns home for a single game against the Edmonton Oilers before returning to the Eastern Conference for games in the Big Apple this weekend.
Of those four games, just one -- Sunday's matinee in Brooklyn against the Islanders -- will come against a team currently inside the playoff picture.
Video: Wild pregame at Sabres
On paper, it's a week where the Wild has a chance to make some hay and perhaps provide itself some cushion in the ever-compacted Western Conference standings, where Minnesota currently resides as the conference's top wild card.
But there are a couple of obstacles in the way.
Firstly, they have to play the games ... and none of these contests will be easy. The Sabres have already defeated the Wild in St. Paul earlier this season.
Buffalo has also been real solid at home, posting a 14-7-3 record at KeyBank Center.
The good news is, the Wild has held up its end of the bargain on the road, posting a perfectly even 13-13-0 record away from Xcel Energy Center.
As the old hockey adage says, win X-amount of games at home and go .500 on the road ... Well, the Wild is doing that.
Before we can get to the rest of the week, the Wild is focused on Buffalo and doing what it can to get two points out of here.
"I think it's a very big game. I've tried to let [the players] know that yesterday and today, reminded them of that this morning, it sets the tone for the week," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "Everybody we play at this point is hungry for points, so you're getting the best efforts. Coming into a building that's sometimes tough to build in, playing a team that's already beat us this year, it's a good test."
The Wild will have a couple of lineup changes to work through.
Firstly, Luke Kunin and Kyle Rau are both expected to suit up. And defenseman Anthony Bitetto, acquired nearly two weeks ago off waivers from the Nashville Predators, will make his Wild debut.
The Wild held an optional morning skate in Buffalo on Tuesday morning. Here is what it looked like:
In case you missed it
Here is today's Wild Warmup
I chatted with a couple of players inside the Wild dressing room yesterday about the loss of defenseman Nate Prosser, who was reassigned to Iowa on Monday after clearing waivers
The Wild will honor St. Paul native and Twins legend Joe Mauer with special warmup jerseys prior to the game Feb. 12 against Philadelphia. Check them out, because those are some awesome threads
Wild forward Jason Zucker sat down with his wife, Carly, for a recent segment that aired on NBC:
Video: Zucker shares what makes him a great father at home
In the latest Only in Minnesota, State of Hockey natives Alex Stalock and Matt Hendricks faced off in a Juicy Lucy cookoff:
Video: Only in Minnesota: Juicy Lucy cook-off
Here is a look at how the Wild could line up tonight in Buffalo:
Jason Zucker - Eric Staal - Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Jordan Greenway - Victor Rask - Luke Kunin
Marcus Foligno - Matt Hendricks - Kyle Rau
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Greg Pateryn
Anthony Bitetto - Brad Hunt
The Sabres had a brilliant start to the season but have fallen out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference due in large part to its play of late. Buffalo has just three wins in its past 10 games and trails the Columbus Blue Jackets by three points for the second wild-card spot. It's eight points back of Montreal, who is currently third in the Atlantic Division.
Jeff Skinner has 31 goals to lead Buffalo. Jack Eichel has a team-high 54 points to go with 37 assists. Sam Reinhart has had a breakout year with 12 goals and 33 assists. Rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the top overall pick in last summer's NHL Draft, has 28 points and is a plus-6 in 51 games this season.
Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have split duties between the posts for Buffalo. Hutton has seen a bulk of the action, starting 32 games and posting a 15-15-3 record to go with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
Here is how the Sabres could look tonight:
Conor Sheary - Jack Eichel - Kyle Okposo
Jeff Skinner - Casey Mittelstadt - Jason Pominville
C.J. Smith - Evan Rodrigues - Sam Reinhart
Zemgus Girgensons - Vladimir Sobotka - Tage Thompson
Rasmus Dahlin - Rasmus Ristolainen
Lawrence Pilut - Zach Bogosian
Marco Scandella - Jake McCabe