Sabres Gameday Preview: Colorado Avalanche – 2/19/22

Earlier this week, the Buffalo Sabres did something they hadn’t done in nearly two whole months: win two games in a row. They hadn’t strung together wins in consecutive games since December 14-16, and did so with wins against the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders, two teams struggling mightily themselves, just like the Sabres. That small streak was cut short, though, as the Sabres dropped their Thursday night matchup against the Ottawa Senators, who have been playing .500 hockey as of late.

Related: Sabres Daily Download – Recap, Stats, Injuries & News

The Sabres are set to play their last game of a three-game home stand at KeyBank Center against the Colorado Avalanche before embarking on a five-game road trip that will take them through Columbus, Montréal, St. Louis, Dallas, and Toronto. Before that, they’ll have to face off against the NHL’s top team in the Avs, and it’s sure to be no easy task to take on in front of the home crowd. Let’s take a look at some storylines as they get ready to drop the puck Saturday afternoon.

3 Storylines: Buffalo Sabres (16-25-8)

Sabres Fall Behind Senators In Standings

The Sabres surprised people out of the gate at the start of the 2021-22 NHL regular season when they got off to a hot, unexpected 5-1-1 start. Since then, though, things have corrected a bit, and have corrected themselves some more this week. The Sabres have spent the majority of this season in sixth place of the eight Atlantic Division teams, but just fell to seventh place after losing to the Senators this week. The Sabres are currently 27th in the overall standings.

Buffalo Sabres Henri Jokiharju Casey Mittelstadt Jeff Skinner Rasmus Dahlin
Henri Jokiharju, Casey Mittelstadt, Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With 40 points through 49 games, the Sabres have just 16 wins, good for a .408 win percentage. The Senators have the same amount of points, but have played two less games, pushing them up to sixth place, right ahead of the Sabres.

Sabres Prepping For NHL Heritage Classic

The Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs are scheduled to play in the NHL Heritage Classic next month, in the first outdoor game at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario, about halfway in between Buffalo, New York, and Toronto. The teams released their special Heritage Classic jerseys this week, with the Sabres sticking to their classic design, and the Leafs taking inspiration from their Toronto Arenas days.

The Maple Leafs are 32-12-3 at the time of writing, good for 67 points – a whole 27 points, or roughly 13 wins, better than the Sabres so far this season. These two teams have a longstanding rivalry, so even with a disparity between the on-ice product, the game should make for an entertaining event.

Sabres’ Potential Trade Chips

The NHL Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and the for the second straight season, the Sabres are expected to be in full fire sale mode, with a few players coming up in every conversation as the perfect trade candidates. Most of the players mentioned are coincidentally defensemen – Mark Pysyk, Colin Miller, and even Robert Hagg – but some forwards have made their way into the conversation, too.

NHL veteran Kyle Okposo could be the perfect addition to a team looking to make a run at the Stanley Cup, especially given the personal season statistics he’s posted to date. A pair of players I expected to come up in trade talk when they were signed were Vinnie Hinostroza and Drake Caggiula, but with both of them out on injured reserve (IR), it’s unlikely that would happen before season’s end.

3 Storylines: Colorado Avalanche (35-9-4)

Avalanche Are NHL’s Top Dogs

The Avalanche were considered Stanley Cup favorites heading into the regular season, and despite a slow start to the season, they have lived up to those expectations in every way. They have won 35 of their first 48 games, which is a .771 win percentage and gives them 74 points in the standings. That’s a whole 11 points ahead of the next-best team in the Central Dvision, the Minnesota Wild (63 points).

Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Avs have a +58 goal differential, and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They boast arguably the best first forward line in the NHL, as well as arguable the best first defense pairing in the NHL. There’s not many holes to poke in their roster, especially with the way their goaltender has played this season.

Darcy Kuemper Has the Hot Hands

The Avs parted ways with Philipp Grubauer last summer, and made a trade for Darcy Kuemper, hoping he would prove to be an upgrade from Grbuauer, who had failed to help the Avs past the first round of the playoffs last postseason. Kuemper has carried the load for them this season, playing 34 games, and posting a remarkable 24-5-2 record. He has a 2.38 goals against average (GAA), .921 save percentage (SV%), and three shutouts.

Kuempers’ GAA ranks ninth among all qualifying NHL goalies, his SV% is tied for 10th with his partner Pavel Francouz, and his three shutouts tie him for third-most among all goalies this season. If he plays against the Sabres on Saturday, they’ll be up against a very solid goalie.

Avs Might Not Need Claude Giroux

The biggest name swirling around NHL trade talk circles right now is Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux. And one of the teams mentioned most when his name comes up is none other than the Avalanche. Giroux has 16 goals, 22 assists, and 38 points in 46 games this season – a very good production output – but the Avs might not realistically need him.

Claude Giroux Philadelphia Flyers
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Adding a piece at the Trade Deadline to “put your team over the top” doesn’t always pay off, and it could be better to stick with what’s been working, and working really well, at that. Giving up current players to acquire Giroux might seem like a good idea in the short term, but in the long term, might mess with the chemistry this roster has built. The Avs might be better off sticking with the way things are now.

Projected Line Combinations, Defense Pairings & Starting Goaltenders

Buffalo Sabres

Jeff Skinner – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch
Peyton Krebs – Dylan Cozens – Victor Olofsson
Rasmus Asplund – Casey Mittelstadt – Kyle Okposo
Anders Bjork – Cody Eakin – John Hayden

Rasmus Dahlin – Henri Jokiharju
Jacob Bryson – Casey Fitzgerald
Robert Hagg – Mark Pysyk

Craig Anderson

Related: Buffalo Sabres Mailbag: Skinner, Olofsson, Dell & More

Colorado Avalanche

Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin – Nazem Kadri – Andre Burakovsky
JT Compher – Alex Newhook – Logan O’Connor
Darren Helm – Tyson Jost – Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Devon Toews – Cale Makar
Jack Johnson – Samuel Girard
Curtis MacDermid – Erik Johnson

Darcy Kuemper

Projected lines are current as of Feb. 18, 2022 as per Daily Faceoff
Stats were taken from and Hockey Reference and are current as of Feb. 18, 2022

Sabres Next Game: Feb. 20 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (24-23-1, 49 points)

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