If the Vancouver Canucks are a playoff team, they need to show it tonight.
After coming up just short against the Boston Bruins on Saturday, the Canucks are in Buffalo tonight for what might be the most favourable matchup they get all month.
They won their only other meeting against the Sabres this season, a 2-1 win, that at the time gave the Canucks a perfect 4-0 start to the season. Good times.
Vancouver Canucks (24-25-6, 54 points) vs Buffalo Sabres (23-22-10, 56 points)
Venue: KeyBank Centre, Buffalo
Time: 4:30 pm PT
TV: Sportsnet Pacific
Radio: TSN 1040
By the numbers
|Goals for||2.31 (27th)||2.45 (24th)|
|Goals against||2.84 (20th)||2.73 (14th)|
|Power play %||15.5 (27th)||23.8 (1st)|
|Penalty kill %||78.6 (25th)||73.6 (29th)|
|Shots for||27.9 (28th)||29.7 (19th)|
|Shots against||31.1 (21st)||34.2 (30th)|
|Faceoff %||52.1 (5th)||50.4 (10th)|
The only lineup change from Saturday is in goal, where Jacob Markstrom will make his 25th appearance of the season.
|D. Sedin||H. Sedin||Granlund|
What you need to know
1. To win or not to win
That is the question.
You see, the Canucks are now 55 games into the season, and their position in the standings is a precarious one.
A win tonight would move the Canucks just four points behind both LA and Nashville in the wild card race.
But a loss? A loss would keep the Canucks at least six points out from the playoff picture, and tied for the third-lowest point total in the NHL.
The Canucks are in a stretch right now where they play a lot of games, many of them on the road against strong opponents. A game against the Sabres is about as favourable a matchup as the Canucks see this month.
If you want the Canucks to make the playoffs, a win tonight would be huge.
If you want the Canucks to tank the rest of the season for a high draft pick, a loss tonight would be huge.
The last thing the Canucks want to be is where they are right now – the team that finishes ninth or tenth in the conference.
2. Stay out of the box!
Discipline will be a key factor for both teams tonight.
Despite sitting 23rd in the league, the Sabres boast the best power play in the league at 23.8%. Combine that with the Canucks’ subpar penalty kill of 78.6%, and the results likely won’t be promising if the Canucks find themselves in penalty trouble.
The Sabres need to watch the penalties too, mostly because they’ve been so bad at killing them (73.6%).
Give the Canucks some credit too, their power play has actually started to look like a power play lately. They’ve gone 4-for-10 over their last four games, with a power play goal in each of those contests.
Both teams played last night, and tired players typically take more penalties, so the special teams situation will be something to monitor throughout the night.
3. Win one, lose one Sabres
Buffalo played last night, a 3-1 win in Toronto. It continued a stretch of six games where the Sabres have alternated wins and losses. They’re now 23-22-10. A loss to the Canucks would put them right back to .500.
Coach: Robin Lehner starts tonight. He's getting the back-to-back. pic.twitter.com/K03EEtMqAs
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 12, 2017
Despite playing back-to-back nights, they’re sticking with their starter in net, Robin Lehner.
The Sabres are led offensively by second-year star Jack Eichel, who missed 21 games earlier this season with an injury. He has 29 points (13-16-29) in 34 games.
Other players leading the way are former Islanders winger Kyle Okposo (36 points), Sam Reinhart (35 points), and Ryan O’Reilly (34 points).
The always rumoured-to-Vancouver Evander Kane has caught fire of late, with two multi-point games in his last three games.
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Playing against the Sabres will help their chances, but it’s back-to-back games on the road. The Canucks haven’t exactly excelled on road trips.
Making matters worse is this tidbit from Joey Kenward.
— Joey Kenward (@kenwardskorner) February 12, 2017
I’ve got a strong feeling the home team will take this one as well. Vancouver will fall 3-1 in Buffalo, with Jannik Hansen registering the lone Canuck goal.