Kicking off a three-game road trip that marks the start of a stretch of five away games in their next six matches, Lindy Ruff will bring his Dallas Stars (23-20-8) to New York State on Saturday to take on his longtime club now coached by Ted Nolan, the Buffalo Sabres (15-34-3). Game time is 6:30 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest Plus.
This is the first of two meetings between the inter-conference teams this season. They will rematch at the American Airlines Center on March 23. Last season, the Stars swept the two-game season series.
The Stars are 2-2-1 in their five games since the All-Star break and winless (0-1-1) in the early going in February. The team has not played all that badly overall in the last two games but has come away with a 3-2 home shootout loss to Colorado and a 5-3 home loss to the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning.
In Thursday’s game against Tampa, the Stars rallied back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to the the game but could not pull off a third successful comeback within the game. Tyler Johnson’s second tally of the game put the Bolts ahead, 4-3, with 3:37 left in regulation. A late empty-netter sealed the win for the Lightning.
In the Tampa game, rookie Stars defenseman John Klingberg — who could be a Calder Trophy finalist at his present pace, although Nashville’s Filip Forsberg is the likely winner at this point — tallied his 10th goal of the season. Dallas also got goals from defensemen Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley (13th of the season).
Kari Lehtonen stopped 24 of 28 shots in a losing cause, with most of the goals coming through traffic. Puck-tracking through traffic has been a trouble spot for the big Finn this season.
With the Stars playing on back-to-back days — a twilight tilt with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden awaits on Sunday — Lehtonen is likely to split goaltending duties with Anders Lindbäck over the weekend. The more logical game to start Lindbäck would be the game in Buffalo.
On the injury front, Travis Moen (lower body) is unavailable for this game. Valeri Nichushkin (hip surgery) and Patrik Nemeth (severe forearm laceration from a skate cut) remain on injured reserve but are on pace to return for at least part of the stretch drive of the season per Stars Inside Edge.
The Sabres have dropped 19 of their last 21 games (2-18-1) and are coming off a 3-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Jhonas Enroth stopped 27 of 29 shots and held the game scoreless until late in the second period, but it wasn’t enough. The final Blues goal was an empty netter.
Buffalo is simultaneously the lowest-scoring team in the NHL (1.75 goals per game, shut out nine times including Thursday’s game) and the most porous defensively (3.52 GAA). They are in the basement in both areas by a significant margin.
The Sabres are well on its way to having a 20 percent chance of winning the NHL’s draft lottery and selecting Connor McDavid, with a guarantee of picking no lower than second (the likely spot in which Jack Eichel will be selected) in the 2015 NHL Draft.
On the injury front for Buffalo, Marcus Foligno (hand) and Cody McCormick (blood clot) are out of the lineup.