After a great Winter Classic on Wednesday, the NHL is packed with action on Thursday night. Twelve games will be on the board throughout Thursday. One of these matchups will be between the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres. Both of these teams are on the cusp of the playoff picture. This game will drop the puck at around 7:00 PM Eastern time.
The Oilers have started off the season with a record of 21-17-4, which has them tied for third place in the Pacific Division. The Vancouver Canucks have the same amount of points with two less games played. Edmonton is only one point ahead of the Calgary Flames in a tight race for the Western Conference at the midway point of the season. The Oilers are coming off a win in their last one, but have lost eleven of their last sixteen games.
Buffalo has posted a record of 17-17-7 to this point in the season, which has them in sixth place of the Atlantic Division. The Sabres are sitting five points behind the third place Tampa Bay Lightning in another close divisional race. Buffalo has lost four games in a row and seven of their last eight coming into this one. The Sabres will look to bounce back with a big win at home against Edmonton.
These two teams are sitting in or near playoff spots from strong starts to the season. The Oilers and the Sabres have struggled quite a bit in their last stretch of games, but will look to get back on track with a win in this one. I expect them to both come out quick to try and control the pace of the game early to try and end their losing streak.
Edmonton and Buffalo met up twice throughout the last season. Five players each put up two points for the Oilers to earn a 7-2 win. The second game shifted to Buffalo. The Sabres held a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period, but Edmonton came battling back. Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse all had two points to help give the Oilers a 4-3 win to sweep the season series.
The Oilers and the Sabres already met up once this season on December 8 in Edmonton. Kyle Okposo and Johan Larsson helped lead Buffalo to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first. Joakim Nygard had a goal and an assist, while Darnell Nurse had two assists to tie it up. Colin Miller ended it in overtime as the Sabres won 3-2. Linus Ullmark stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced in the winning effort.
Since Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were drafted to these respective teams, the games between these teams have been competitive. The Sabres have won five of the last seven games against Edmonton. The Oilers were able to pull off the sweep last season and will look to even up this series on Thursday night.
Edmonton’s special teams have done extremely well to this point in the season. The Oilers power play has been able to capitalize on 39 of their 129 power play chances, which is a 30.2 percent success rate. Edmonton’s penalty kill has held opposing teams to 20 power play goals on 120 power play opportunities, which is an 83.3 percent kill rate.
The Sabres special teams have not done well so far this season. Buffalo’s power play has struggled, scoring on 22 of their 125 chances, which is a 17.6 percent power play. The Sabres penalty kill has not been any better. Buffalo has allowed their opponents to capitalize on 33 of the 126 penalties against them, which is a 73.8 percent kill rate.
The Oilers have done really well on the power play this season, which could dominate against Buffalo’s struggling penalty kill. I believe that Edmonton’s penalty kill should be able to shut down the Sabres power play as well. If the Oilers can dominate on special teams, it could help lead them to a nice victory on Thursday night.
I expect Mikko Koskinen to get the nod in the crease for the Oilers on Thursday night. Koskinen has started out this season with a record of 14-8-2 through his games played. He has put up a save percentage of .912 and a 2.85 GAA. Koskinen’s last start was against the New York Rangers. He stopped 28 of the 33 shots against him in the win.
Linus Ullmark will likely get the start in net for Buffalo in this matchup. Ullmark has posted a record of 11-11-3 through his 25 starts on the season. He has earned a .909 save percentage and a GAA of 2.90 through those games. Ullmark’s last start came against the Tampa Bay Lightning where he stopped 21 of the 26 shots against him in a losing effort.
Both of these goalies have had similar solid numbers on the season. Ullmark has had a save percentage below .900 in his last two starts, while Koskinen has had four straight starts with save percentage below .900. If either of these two goalies can bounce back and put up a strong performance on Thursday night, it should help lead to a nice advantage for their respective team.
The Sabres were able to win the first game of the season series in Edmonton, but I believe that the Oilers will bounce back with a win in this one. Edmonton has a strong advantage in this one on special teams, which I believe could play a big role for them. If Koskinen can step up after four poor starts in a row, it should help the Oilers get back on a winning streak.
BetOnline has Buffalo listed as a -123 against the money line in this one. This implies that the Sabres will win this game around 55.2 percent of the time. I believe that this game should be closer to even. Both teams have had a lot of struggles as of late, but I believe that the Oilers have a lot of nice edges in this one. If Edmonton can start early, I think they will pull off the upset on the road.