Time: 7:00 PM EST
Place: KeyBank Center
TV: MSG-B, FS-D
Radio: 97.1 FM The Ticket/1270 AM
Sabres Blog: Die By The Blade
Tonight’s matchup kicks off a four game road trip for the Red Wings. Detroit squares off with the Buffalo Sabres in what is likely one of the most anticipated games of the season for Wings fans. This is due in part to the fact Detroit just beat Buffalo last Thursday via the shootout. But far more importantly, Wings fans have will get to see the spiciest meatball, the towering terror, Big Tony, the one and only Anthony Mantha make his return to the lineup. That may seem like hyperbole but given Mantha’s incredible importance to the lineup, his appearance is enough to bring some excitement to the game for Wings fans. Mantha has missed 28 of 57 games this season including the last 20 with a punctured lung. Despite missing half of the season to injury Mantha remains 5th on the team in points and tied for 3rd in goals. The team went 5-14-1 during his latest his stint on IR. Mantha is one of the few players on this roster capable of driving the play, and his return can’t be understated.
Mantha returns just in time to try to help the Wings build some momentum in this lost season. One couldn’t really call it turning a corner when looking more closely at the play and shot shares recently, but the Wings have still won two of their last three against the Sabres and Bruins, respectively and are showing signs of life. The LCA was the loudest it’s been in some time during the third period in the game against Boston. It was the middle of March last year when the Wings began their hot streak down the stretch. They seem quite a ways from that yet, but this could be the early signs of stoking the fire to prove they are not as bad as their record says they are.
The Wings look to also be getting closer to full health again with Madison Bowey ready to return. Several others including Fabbri, Nielsen, and Helm are all questionable but due to return soon. Fabbri skated yesterday after having to leave the game against the Bruins. Filip Zadina appears to be the lone player still going to miss some significant time, not accompanying the team for the road trip. But the initial prognosis had him projected to return sometime in the next couple of weeks.
Assuming the incoming reinforcements will return to the lineup before others start to go down the Wings will have some tough decisions to make on roster moves. Given the slew of injuries of late, the Wings haven’t had to scratch or send down very many guys, with the exception of Cholowski. A player like Givani Smith have been performing admirably for awhile in his fourth line role. Taro Hirose just called up for what’s likely to be an extended look. It’s very possible someone like Brendan Perlini finds his way back to the press box. The other option will be moving bodies out via trade with the deadline approaching. The Wings don’t have many desirable candidates for other teams, but there are a couple possibilities who could get shuffled out.
Among those who’ve gotten an opportunity due to the injuries, Gustav Lindstrom has played three games now with the big club. He’s played 12:07, 20:26, and 14:29 in his three appearances so far. Not known as an offensive dynamo by any means, Lindstrom has performed well in his first taste at the NHL level. He’s played a simple, yet effective game with a touch of physicality. He won’t jump out to you during a game, but as a defenseman that may be his best attribute.
Between the pipes, Jonathan Bernier is expected to get the start after backstopping the Wings to their wins over Boston and Buffalo. Bernier has been lights out as far as back as mid-December or so. Despite the Wings poor results as a whole he’s managed a 12-14-2 record with a 2.82 GAA and .911 SV%. Those numbers are stellar given the roster in front of him and the chances his team gives up.
The Wings opponent tonight, the Sabres, might have a fan base in much more dire straits. Yes, Detroit is a mile and a half behind in the standings, but this was supposed to be a brutal season. Wings fans have settled into somewhat accepting this as a necessary evil to return to glory. For Buffalo fans, this year was supposed to be different. This was their year to finally make the jump back into the playoffs. With an impressive 9-1-1 start, it’s understandable why that fuelled the excitement. But times have changed quickly with Buffalo losing 6 of their last 8 and sitting 10 points out of a playoff spot, their season is essentially lost and fans are reeling. In a building where Detroit typically has a good turnout of fans, expect the boo birds to come out if the Wings jump out to a quick start on the Sabres.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Sabres. Jack Eichel is in the midst of perhaps his most impressive season ever with a 31G-38A-69P stat line. Other bright spots up front include Sam Reinhart (20G-25A-45P) and Victor Olofsson (16G-19A-35P). Their former 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin is on track to roughly match his rookie totals, which although impressive is not the step forward they were probably hoping for. Carter Hutton is likely to get the start for the for Buffalo but he did step away from the team for personal reasons on the weekend so he may remain out, in which case expect to see Jonas Johansson play the Wings once again.
The Wings hope to be the latest nightmare in the Sabres downward spiral. Can the return of Anthony Mantha be enough to spark an offensive outburst? Watch tonight to find out.