The headline was a quote from Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger concerning the upcoming schedule as he was talking to the gathered media post-practice yesterday. His Sabres squad had just come back from participating in the 2019 Global Series which featured a somewhat compact schedule in October and early November prior to the Series. They had five days to travel and acclimate to Stockholm, Sweden for their back-to-back against the Tampa Bay Lightning last weekend and another four days to reacclimate to North America afterward. Sunday was a travel day with Monday and Tuesday being mandated days off. The Sabres resumed practice yesterday and will have a game tonight at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Krueger said yesterday that the team will have a pregame skate this morning because they haven't been on the ice and mentioned how he and his club will be approaching 21 games in 39 days leading up until the Christmas break. "The reality is we have the 21 games 'til Christmas and we're breaking it up into little groups. We've got five games, two-day pause; six games, two-day pause; six games, two-day pause; four games."
It's a tough stretch with the bulk of the heavy lifting coming the rest of this month. The Sabres play 10 games in 17 days including a final week that features five games in seven days bookended by back-to-backs against division foes beginning with a Florida road trip (at the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay) and ending with a home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I think if you break it down into smaller sections in your mind," said Kreuger, "you deal with those as you go through it. Once we enter the games we'll really have to use our experience from the beginning of the season [on] how to manage energy between games.
"I feel the fitness-level, other than our injuries now, [gives] the guys a strong foundation. We've been doing a lot of work off-ice that we believe will help us."
With that type of condensed schedule Krueger came out and said that they "need to use the whole lineup," something that may be easier said than done. Sure, they can have the bodies on the ice, but can they contribute on the scoresheet?
As chronicled in the last blog, the Sabres have become a one-line team during the 1-5-1 slump they're stuck in. Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson were responsible for all five goals in the two losses to Tampa in Stockholm and have scored seven of the team's 12 goals during this difficult seven-game stretch. Of the remaining five goals, three came from defenseman, one from 40-goal scorer Jeff Skinner and the other came from the now-injured Vladimir Sobotka.
It's a problem they'll need to address and they'll do so beginning tonight without the services of forward Marcus Johansson, who's 10 points (4+6) ranks him tied for fifth on the team. Johansson was held out of practice yesterday and is considered day-to-day with Krueger adding that it's not something to be worried about, "it's just something we're being careful about."
The Sabres recalled forward Curtis Lazar from Rochester to take Sobotka's place and he'll be in the lineup tonight. These were the lines from the Sabres morning skate:
Olofsson - Eichel - Reinhart
Skinner - Rodrigues - Sheary
Vesey - Mittelstadt - Lazar
Girgensons - Larsson - Okposo
Buffalo also has the services of defenseman Marco Scandella for tonight's game. Scandella had been on injured reserve since October 25th with an injury that disrupted what seemed to be the Sabres best defensive pairing. He and Henri Jokiharju will be back as a pairing with the d-corps looking like this for tonight:
McCabe - Ristolainen
Dahlin - Montour
Scandella - Jokiharju
The Sabres kick off their "Twenty-one games to Christmas" with a matchup tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes at KeyBank Center. Buffalo has not beaten the 'Canes since March 22, 2016 having gone 0-2-1 in each of the last three years and are a paltry 1-6-3 in their last 10 games against Carolina (4-4-2 in their last 10 games at home.)
The 'Canes had been struggling as of late but stopped their four-game losing streak with an explosive 8-2 home-win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday. As of now they are in the first wild card spot in the East, one point ahead of Buffalo having played one more game.