On the injury front, the Red Wings are preparing to get a few guys back soon, to the point where we were hearing updates that Helm and Abdelkader could play as early as tonight. Seems that’s not terribly likely now:
Looks like Smith ready to return. He's on second power play unit, with Nyquist, Nielsen, Vanek and Sheahan (net front). #RedWings— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) December 27, 2016
Tyler Bertuzzi also skating with team. Helm, Green, Abdelkader, Marchenko not skating with team. #RedWings— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) December 27, 2016
Per the lines at the morning Skate, the Wings are set up like this:
Key Match Ups
Be On Alert For A “Goaltending Duel”
Um, okay, yeah Petr Mrazek hasn’t played up to potential and the tandem of Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson likely wont ever win a Jennings Trophy but expect a low scoring game. By this I mean two struggling offenses that are constipated despite each boasting respectable forwards. It’s almost as you could posit offense comes from puck moving defensemen in today’s NHL and both teams suffer from lack of quality at that position. The Red Wings are missing Mike Green, who is undoubtably their best puck mover. Buffalo has Rasmus Ristolainen, who already has 20 assists and leads the team in points, but not much else. Even Cody Franson—who I view as a respectable offensive-minded defenseman—was recently scratched. This will be a battle between bottom five offenses to see who can squeak one through first.
Looking At A Broken Mirror
The Sabres do have the excuse of missing young star Jack Eichel for the first 20 games of the season. However, even with Eichel in the lineup, this team seems to be struggling with coach Dan Bylsma on finding a team philosophy. In this illuminating article by the Buffalo News’ John Vogl, you see a subtle line being drawn from the style the Sabres are likely suited for vs. the style being preached in the room. Sabres’ defenseman Jake McCabe talked of being able to get in the zone and grind down teams. Looking at the Sabres lineup, other than power forward Kyle Okposo, it’s hard not to imagine this team wanting to play at a faster pace. While skill is lacking in the bottom six and most of their defense, there’s enough in the top end to generate more quality shots and goals. Conversely, the Red Wings seem to be going through the same identity crisis. We see this squad with Larkin, Athanasiou, Mantha, Jurco, Nyquist, Tatar etc. yet many of them seem tethered to a grinder. Buffalo and Detroit are in similar positions with some quality young skill but the refusal to let them exercise that skill to its full potential for the sake of physicality. No surprise both are at the bottom of the standings with their Old Guard stubbornness.
An Impotent Power Play vs. A Surprisingly Potent One
Buffalo’s struggles come on the penalty kill and even strength. But if given a shot on the power play, they’ve proven to be a legit threat. Right now they're coming in around a 22% clip, good for fourth in the league, just above the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Before Eichel returned from injury, castaway Matt Moulson led the way with 7 of his 8 goals on the power play. Meanwhile the Red Wings are 0 for their last 26 power plays. It’s a staggering number, considering their power play unit doesn't look bad on paper (well maybe save for Sheahan). Assistant John Torchetti has been under my magnifying glass all season with hope with quick shot philosophy would bring improvement. It seems one of their problems is making the net-front presence too stagnant. Maybe some rotation from Sheahan, Mantha and Vanek, or positioning them further from the net would generate more quality shots. I'm just spitballing. You can fire the puck, get it to the net—that's all good—but Im seeing stagnancy, I’m seeing the Wings net-front guys robbing themselves of space to shoot and gather rebounds.
Please Boo Evander Kane
Yeah, I wasn't in these Buffalo bars when multiple Evander Kane incidents happened, but I have a feeling if there’s that much smoke, there's fire. The same Buffalo Police Department and same attorney that were so gracious and protective of a different Kane, got their mits on these cases and repeated their athlete strategy—this time at the behest of the hometown club. Worst was how Evander Kane handled it, laying into the alleged victims, claiming he was a target. This was territory only a person completely blind to the severity of his allegations goes into. It gave voice to a cultural problem. I had previously viewed Evander as a sympathetic figure in Winnipeg after the absurd tracksuit incident. It shows how backward hockey culture is that the Jets orchestrated a huge multi-player trade in part to be rid of his lockerroom presence, but there’s multiple assault allegations by women in Buffalo and he’s defended by the Sabres organization. I know this has zero to do with matchups on the ice, but excuse the editorialization, Evander Kane sucks and if you're at The Joe, boo him.
Oh, and Ryan O’Reilly won’t be playing tonight. That’s a pretty big deal:
Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly underwent a successful appendectomy over the break & no timetable has been set for his return. pic.twitter.com/YSfCUKdpl2— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 27, 2016