The Blues might have been surprised by the Sabres on Thursday, but they won't get fooled again. This is a MUCH different Buffalo team from what we've seen in years past. For one, management is actually trying to win this time around. Also, the "real" team has been assembled, not the ghosts of teams past or pickups from the waiver wire bargain bin. The first phase of their rebuild project culminated with their last-place finish and, therefore, best-possible position for the upcoming draft lottery. They had to "settle" for Jack Eichel as their second-overall pick, but combined with their trades (notably Evander Kane at the deadline and Ryan O'Reilly in the offseason) they now had a chance to start building up again.
As evidenced in Thursday's game, the Sabres can now start utilizing the players that they've stockpiled. There are 6 players on this roster that are still on their Entry-Level Contracts (one is on IR, Zemgus Girgensons), and a total of 13 players under the age of 25. Four of their top five goal-scorers are in that age range. They are primed for a quick bounce-back this year, and it would be foolhardy to underestimate these guys.
That's one possible explanation for Thursday's result. Sure, the Blues won - and allowing a point to the Eastern Conference doesn't hurt us at all in the standings. However, the Blues are better than the Sabres, and by a wider margin that what we've seen from them. The recent Blues malaise has been attributed to fatigue, which can be understood a little. The injuries that have plagued the Blues this year lead to short benches, constant call-ups, line mixing ... all of those can contribute to fatigue. Unfortunately, that's the last thing you want when you're competing against the young legs of the Sabres. Hockey players are known for expending their energy in bursts, recuperating quickly, and then doing it all over again. Let's hope that they had a good day off and a nice relaxing flight to Buffalo.
Speaking of injuries, there has been some good news on that front. Jori Lehtera and Coloton Parayko have already returned, and Paul Stastny is travelling with the team. He's been getting in tune with the team at practice, just waiting on bones to heal and the OK from the docs. He could return to the lineup as soon as tonight, depending on how the morning skate goes. I'm sure news will break once that decision's reached.
As for your starting goalies, I expect Brian Elliott to get one of these Eastern Conference starts, but it could just as easily be the de facto starter Jake Allen. For Buffalo, they could use Chad Johnson again (who played in the loss to Dallas on Saturday) or go with the proverbial hot hand in Linus Ullmark.
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Final Verse: Another early start tonight, with the puck dropping at 6:00 PM St Louis time. As usual, the TV broadcast will be on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120. The GDT should drop shortly before the puck does. Come on down and hang out with us, we'll supply the gifs, you supply the inventive cursing. In the meantime, check out a musical tribute to a big Tim Horton's fan...