Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this evening's matchup between the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center, November 16, 2019 is Hockey Fights Cancer Night around the NHL. To those who've been touched by this dreadful diseases--the millions whose stories are many and varied--prayers and best wishes to you.
The Sabres game tonight against the Senators has a definitive connection to Hockey Fights Cancer Night in the form of center Rasmus Asplund. The 2016 second round pick (33rd-overall) saw both of his grandparents succumb to cancer with his grandfather passing the day after he was selected by Buffalo. "He basically waited for me to get home from the draft and show the draft jersey and all that," said Asplund to the gathered media this morning. The 21 yr. old center was called up from Rochester yesterday he will play in his first NHL game tonight.
Asplund will take the place of an injured Johan Larsson centering Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo. He'll be the second new face up front joining Curtis Lazar who scored his first goal in his first game for Buffalo in the Sabres 5-4 overtime loss versus the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday. Larsson, it should be noted, scored the game-tying goal in that game with just over a minute to play in the third period.
Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said he and his staff took notice of Asplund's play at training camp before he was ultimately one of the last players cut. "[He] showed us some strong awareness away from the puck," said Krueger of Asplund at camp. "We think he's ready. We haven't given him a big to-do list and at training camp all the principles and concepts have been laid out for him and they're working with the same language in Rochester.
"I'm seeing now with Lazar and Asplund coming for Rochester the advantage of a very strong relationship between Rochester and Buffalo and how that simplifies the day for him. There's not many changes in breakouts or forechecks or principles of play and that allows him to just play hockey."
Buffalo needs to just play hockey as well, and they need to do it to the point where they end up scoring more goals than the opposition, something they haven't done in the last six games. The Sabres are stuck in the muck of a six-game winless streak (0-4-2) and have a tough schedule between now and the NHL's Christmas break. Tonight they face a Senators team on the upswing as they've been going in the opposite direction than Buffalo.
While the Sabres were busy getting off to a hot 8-1-1 start before struggling as of late, Ottawa started out the season with a three-game losing streak on their way to a 3-8-1 start. However, they've managed to turn that around by goin 5-2-0 in their last seven games.
Buffalo is 6-3-1 in their last 10 games at home vs. Ottawa.
The following lines remain intact from the Carolina game with Asplund slotting in for Larsson:
Olofsson - Eichel - Reinhart
Skinner - Rodrigues - Sheary
Vesey - Mittelstadt - Lazar
Girgensons - Asplund - Okposo
Rodrigues easily had his best game of the season against the 'Canes and looked exactly like the player general manager Jason Botterill re-signed him for while his line was a revelation. Skinner scored Buffalo's first goal with assists from Sheary and Rodrigues with the latter and heavily factoring into defenseman Henri Jokiharju's unassisted, game-tying goal in the third period as he kept the puck in and forced a pass that turned into a giveaway right on to Jokiharju's stick. Krueger hasn't touched Buffalo's top line as they've shown plenty of chemistry and perhaps the coach has found himself another line.
There looks to be no changes on the blueline as the same pairings will be on the ice again:
McCabe - Ristolainen
Dahlin - Montour
Scandella - Jokiharju
The return of Scandella meant a reunion with Jokiharju in what may have been Buffalo's best d-pairing before he went down to injury. They finished Thursday night with each with an even plus/minus rating on 15:18 and 15:28 total ice-time, respectively.
McCabe and Ristolainen continue to anchor the Sabres blueline with Dahlin and Montour as the second pair. Dahlin in particular looked more at ease against Carolina and any resurgence of the Sabres will need him playing much better than he had been prior.
Linus Ullmark gets the start in net.
I fight for you, Mom.