RALEIGH, N.C. — 197 minutes, 40 seconds. That is where the Buffalo Sabres’ scoring drought stands entering their game tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes in PNC Arena.
They have been shut out in three consecutive games, failing to score a goal since the third period of a 5-4 shootout loss in Chicago last Thursday. Jack Eichel will return to the lineup after serving his two-game suspension for a hit to the head of Colorado’s Carl Soderberg and has been reunited with Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart on the top line.
However, the Sabres (30-31-9) have won just three of their last 22 road games and have lost eight consecutive games to the Hurricanes (38-25-7), who occupy the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card playoff spot. Opening faceoff is 7:08 p.m.
“It’s been tough,” coach Phil Housley said following practice Friday. “We’ve had some awfully good looks and it’s not going in. It’s not like we’re not creating anything. We’ve mostly out-chanced other teams. Again, it’s simplifying our game. We looked at it today. We went over it. … We’re going to continue to work on it.”
Here are Five Things to Know ahead of tonight’s game:
1. Lineup: In addition to getting Eichel back, Zemgus Girgensons will play after being a healthy scratch for two games, while Scott Wilson and Vladimir Sobotka are out of the lineup. Defensemen Zach Bogosian (upper body) is also going to draw back into the lineup, while Marco Scandella remains day-to-day with an upper body injury he suffered during the 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
Housley also told reporters Saturday afternoon that Linus Ullmark will start in goal.
In addition to reuniting the formidable top line, Housley made other changes to the lineup during practice Friday. Alex Nylander was on a line with Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues, while Tage Thompson and Casey Mittelstadt were with Jason Pominville.
There were also changes to the defensive pairings with Bogosian back:
2. Carolina’s run: The Hurricanes’ current streak against the Sabres is their longest against any team in the NHL, as they have not lost to Buffalo since March 2016. That includes a pair of wins over the Sabres this season, including 6-5 in a shootout in KeyBank Center last month.
The Hurricanes have gone 23-8-2 (48 points) over their last 33 games, the second-most wins and points by
any team in the NHL since Dec. 31. They are tied for fourth in the NHL with 117 goals during that span. Carolina has allowed the fifth-fewest goals all season, while much of its roster has thrived against the Sabres, including Sebastian Aho, who has 10 points in eight career games against them.
Since Dec. 1, the Sabres have the second-fewest points and third-fewest goals.
3. Skinner’s return: Skinner is returning to Raleigh for the second time this season and scored during the Sabres’ 4-3 loss here on Jan. 11. He also had two goals during their 6-5 shootout loss to the Hurricanes in KeyBank Center last month.
Another revenge game would come at a perfect time .Skinner is amid a 13-game scoring drought — tied for the second-longest of his career — and should benefit from being united with Eichel. They have recorded a point on the same goal 31 times this season, making them the most productive Sabres duo since Pominville and Thomas Vanek combined on 39 goals in the 2011-12 season.
At least one of the two has recorded a point on 99 of the team’s 190 goals this season, or 52.1 percent.
4. Eichel’s return: The 22-year-old captain’s return comes at an important time for the Sabres. He has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 11 career games against the Hurricanes, including seven (three goals, four assists) in his last four.
He has 72 points this season, setting a new career-high mark, also tying his previous high with 25 goals. Eichel has joined Rick Martin and Thomas Vanek as the third player in franchise history to record at least 20 goals in each of his first four NHL
Though Eichel was held scoreless in his two games prior to suspension, he had six in six games prior to that and is one goal away from setting a new career high.
5. By the Numbers: Over their last 18 games, the Hurricanes have killed 41 of 45 opponents’ power plays and their penalty kill ranks sixth in the NHL entering Saturday’s games. … Aho has recorded career highs in goals (30), assists (47) and points (77). He is just the sixth player in franchise history to post 70 points in a season prior to turning 22 years old, and he is only the second player in the team’s last 25 seasons to accomplish the feat (Eric Staal, 2005-06). Aho is also the first Hurricanes player to register 77 points in a season since Ray Whitney in 2008-09. … The Sabres have allowed five power-play goals over their last three games.