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Chicago Blackhawks’ Eye On The Enemy: Buffalo And Arizona

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BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Buffalo Sabres bench watches the action during an NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 28, 2017 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. Tampa Bay won, 2-0. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Buffalo Sabres bench watches the action during an NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 28, 2017 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. Tampa Bay won, 2-0. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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BUFFALO, NY – NOVEMBER 28: Jack Eichel
BUFFALO, NY – NOVEMBER 28: Jack Eichel /

Tonight: Buffalo Sabres

The Blackhawks’ foe tonight will be the Buffalo Sabres, who are facing a difficult season thus far.  They sit dead last in the league in points despite having some very talented young players.  Here’s my own preview of the Sabres.

Coach Phil Housley

Blackhawks fans will remember Housley as an excellent blueliner who could really move the puck.  Predators fans will remember Housley as an assistant coach who helped turn their defense into the powerhouse that it is today.

And in Buffalo, he is trying to shape a young core that has great potential.  It’s a challenge for him with injuries to some defensemen and thin talent on his third and fourth lines, but his track record speaks for itself.

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Potent top line

Overshadowed by first-overall 2015 draft pick Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel has been more than a consolation prize for Buffalo as he has become the centerpiece of the organization.

The 21-year-old center signed an eight-year, $80 million contract in October, which places him among the league’s elite players. Eichel, along with his wingers Evander Kane and Jason Pominville, comprise a potent top line of speed, power and skill.

In 29 games, this trio has combined for 28 goals and 34 assists for 62 points. Kane has been the subject of trade rumors with the ‘Hawks, so keep an eye on this Sabres scoring leader.

Second line woes, and then …

As Eichel has ascended to top-line center, former top-line center Ryan O’Reilly now mans the second line.  He’s been scoreless in his last six games, but his size and speed have made him difficult for ‘Hawks defenders to handle in the past.

Winger Benoit Pouliot is still serviceable, and Hudson Fasching has appeared in just two games this season.  So after the premier top line, there is quite a falloff.  The third and fourth lines are just pretty thin.

Defense

FanSided’s Nick McAdam previewed the Sabres defense at the beginning of the season.  Rasmus Ristolainen was expected to be the rising defensive star, but coach Housely recently has been relying heavily on Marco Scandella.

From FanSided’s Richard Spaling on the defense:

But what, specifically, about Buffalo’s defense sucks? Anyone who followed the Sabres last year knows that this team allowed 34.1 shots per game, the worst such mark in the league. It is easy to assume that the Sabres are yet again near the bottom of the NHL in shots allowed . . . but actually the team has shown significant improvement in that area under Phil Housley, allowing just 31.7 shots per game, good for 16th in the NHL.

The defensemen may be piling up some negative plus/minus numbers, but some of the blame may go to the next guys ….

The goalies

Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson just aren’t bailing out the defense with these performances:

Player

GP

GS

W

L

T

OT

SA

GA

GAA

S

Sv%

SO

MIN

Robin Lehner
Robin Lehner /

21

19

6

12

0

2

574

54

2.93

520

.906

1

1,108

Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson /

11

9

1

5

0

2

290

34

3.64

256

.883

0

561

So what do the “I gotta guy” guys think?

The guys at Statsalt pretty much sum things up with stats ammunition right here.  But as Coach Q said in his postgame presser, “Don’t be fooled by the numbers.”  The ‘Hawks will need to play with purpose and consistency to come out on top, things that have been lacking during the five-game losing streak.

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