Lightning Have Tough Matchup Against Surging Buffalo Sabres

When the 2022-23 season began, I doubt many people expected the Buffalo Sabres to be second in the Atlantic Division—one point in front of the Tampa Bay Lightning. But here we are, a little over 10 games into the new season, and the team from Western New York is sitting at 14 points and is red hot offensively and defensively.

The Sabres played the Carolina Hurricanes last evening (Nov. 4) in the first of a back-to-back. Although they lost 5-3, it was a hard-fought battle. When the Lightning play the Sabres tonight, they will need to account for two players in particular, center Tage Thompson and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

Tage Thompson and the Offense

Standing 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Thompson has a long reach that makes it difficult to take the puck away from him. Toward the end of last season, he started to hit his stride, especially on the power play. So far this season, he has seven goals and seven assists in 11 games while playing on the top line with veterans Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch. He scored a hat trick against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, Oct. 31, and added three assists during that same game.

Although Thompson is a scoring machine of late, the Sabres are taking a page from Lightning coach Jon Cooper, and incorporating all four lines into the goal-scoring mix. Victor Olofsson is leading the team with nine goals this season. As mentioned, Thompson has seven goals, as does Tuch and team captain Kyle Okposo. Skinner is producing almost at a point-per-game pace and 21-year-old Dylan Cozens has scored four goals and three assists in his third season with the team.

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J.J. Peterka, the 20-year-old who the Sabres selected early in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft, has been a surprise, netting three goals and four assists in his first season with the team. In his first full season with the team, Jack Quinn assisted on two goals vs. the Hurricanes and has four points in nine games.

Rasmus Dahlin and the Defense

The Lightning have always counted on their defense to score points throughout the season and teams need two-way players. The Sabres have one of the best two-way players in Dahlin, who scored five goals in his first five games this season, setting an NHL record for a defenseman. With his 15 points in 11 games, fans may be forgiven if they have momentarily forgotten about the team’s first-round pick, Owen Power.

Owen Power Buffalo Sabres
Owen Power, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Power is the 6-foot-6, 218-pounder who has contributed five assists in his first full season with the team. Once he gains some NHL experience, he and Dahlin will be a fearsome duo throughout the league. For now, Dahlin is carrying the defensive load quite well.

Craig Anderson and Eric Comrie

With the Sabres playing the second half of a back-to-back against the Lightning, starting goalie Eric Comrie is scheduled to play. His record is only 4-3 in his seven starts, but he has played well against some tough opponents. However, 41-year-old backup goalie Craig Anderson is 3-1 and holds a.927 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.25 goals-against average (GAA) in his four starts.

Although there is a 14-year age difference between 27-year-old Comrie and Anderson, they are making a great goalie tandem that few saw coming.

Lightning Will Have Their Hands Full With the Sabres

Buffalo is second in the NHL in scoring with 4.3 goals per game (right behind the Boston Bruins at 4.4 goals) and their power play is humming along at 23.3 percent, for 12th place, one spot behind the Lightning who score 23.4 percent with a man advantage. Tampa is scoring 3.2 goals per game and are playing inconsistently so far this season. In 109 career games against the Sabres, the Bolts are 48-48, with five ties and eight overtime losses.

Former Buffalo Sabres player Zach Bogosian is healing from offseason surgery and will rejoin teammate Steven Stamkos
Former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian is healing from offseason surgery and hopes to rejoin his Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos soon. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris O’Meara)

So far this season, the Sabres have beaten some really good teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers. It’s no secret that the Eastern Conference produces the best, most competitive teams and the Lightning must bring their A-game every single night to keep pace. Every team is improved and points are hard to secure. If they win, they can jump over the Sabres for second place in the division.

The Sabres would love to close out their brief southern swing with at least two points, but the Lightning need to play better in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. A win over the surging boys from Buffalo would be the perfect example.

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