NHL Hockey

Final 1 2 3 Tot
Florida 0 1 2 3
Buffalo 2 0 2 4
4:00 PM PT5:00 PM MT6:00 PM CT7:00 PM ET0:00 GMT8:00 5:00 PM MST7:00 PM EST4:00 UAE (+1)19:00 ETNaN:� BRT, January 3, 2019
KeyBank Center, Buffalo, New York  Attendance: 18,551

Panthers-Sabres Preview

Florida Panthers at Buffalo Sabres

  1. The Panthers beat the Red Wings, 4-3, in a shootout in Detroit on Monday, improving to 6-2-0 in their last eight games. They trailed 3-0 after one, making it just the second time in franchise history they've rallied from a three-goal deficit after the first period to win (also 11/21/2011 vs. New Jersey).
  2. Jared McCann scored Florida's first goal in the comeback against Detroit, his seventh of the season. He tied a career high with nine goals last season, the same number he had as a rookie with Vanouver in 2015-16.
  3. Florida has won both meetings between these teams this season, getting a 3-2 overtime win at home on November 30, and a 5-2 win in Buffalo on December 18. The Panthers are 11-2-2 in Buffalo since the 2011-12 season.
  4. The Sabres lost to the Islanders, 3-1, at home on Monday, and are now 1-4-1 in their last six, and 4-7-4 since their 10-game winning streak. They've scored more than two goals just once in their last six games, in their only win in that span (3-0 vs. Anaheim).
  5. Kyle Okposo scored Buffalo's only goal, just his sixth of the season, in the loss to New York, where he spent the first nine years of his career. He is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals for the third straight year with Buffalo, after reaching 20 in three of his last four full seasons with New York.
  6. Florida's shootout win on Monday was the 12th time the Panthers have had to play beyond regulation this season, fifth most in the league. Buffalo has played 14 overtime games, tied with Anaheim and Detroit for the most in the league.

If life is all about timing, then this may be the right time for the Florida Panthers to visit the Buffalo Sabres.

The Panthers (17-15-6) are not in the playoff picture at the moment, but they have been hot lately, winning six of their past eight games. The Panthers are also playing well on the road with a 9-9-2 record away from home, including 4-1-0 in their past five games.

On Monday, the Panthers trailed the host Detroit Red Wings 3-0 after one period but rallied to win 4-3 on a shootout goal by Jonathan Huberdeau.

Backup goalie James Reimer replaced starter Roberto Luongo after one period and went on to stop all 12 shots he faced plus three more in the shootout to win his third straight game.

"We had a bad first period, and (Luongo) got hung out to dry," Reimer said. "We really pushed back in the second period, and the guys were huge in front of me. They were blocking shots, deflecting passes and clearing the puck."

Meanwhile, the Sabres - who were the hottest team in the NHL with 10 straight November wins - have slumped of late, going 4-7-4 in their past 15 games.

The Sabres (21-13-6) will enter Thursday's game with three straight losses, including a 3-1 defeat against the New York Islanders.

And, as if that slump weren't bad enough on its own, the Sabres also lost star center Jack Eichel to an upper-body injury during that Islanders game.

Eichel leads the Sabres in points (49) and assists (34). His loss is terrible news for a Sabres team that has scored a combined total of four goals in their past three games.

Sabres coach Phil Housley said he didn't think Eichel's injury is serious, but it's still a concern at the very least.

"This is testing us," Housley said of the Sabres slump as well as the Eichel injury. "Mentally, we're going to fight through this. We've got to stay the course and not break."

Florida's two biggest injuries in terms of importance are to forwards Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad.

Trocheck, who scored a combined total of 54 goals the past two years and was an All-Star in 2017, is out for several more weeks due to a fractured right ankle.

Bjugstad, who has scored 86 career goals -- including 19 last season, has an upper-body injury but is skating and could return soon.

As for Thursday's game, the Panthers, who have fallen behind at least 1-0 in four consecutive first periods, may want to go right back to Luongo, who is their starter, after all. Or they may opt to stick with the hot glove of Reimer.

Similarly, the Sabres could go right back to starter Carter Hutton, who took the loss against the Islanders. He is 13-12-3 this season with a .917 save percentage and a 2.63 GAA. Or, the Sabres could opt for a hot backup in Linus Ullmark, who is one win away from a career high in victories. The fourth-year NHL goalie is 8-1-3 with a .922 save percentage and a 2.71 GAA.

Luongo is 8-7-1 with an .897 save percentage and a 3.19 GAA. Reimer is 8-7-3 with an .896 save percentage and a 3.18 GAA.

However, in those past three straight wins, Reimer has allowed just four goals and has posted a .947 save percentage.

Meanwhile, Huberdeau is 3-for-3 on shootout goals this season and has been one of Florida's best players overall. He leads the team in points (44) and assists (34).

"His vision is outstanding," teammate Mike Hoffman said of Huberdeau. "Some people on the bench or on TV don't even see his passes."

Updated January 2, 2019

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