Minnesota Wild @ Buffalo Sabres Preview

Both the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild come into tonight’s game desperate for wins.  The Wild are a team that had very high expectations this season and have been supremely underperforming.  Currently, the Wild are 12th in the Western Conference with 41 points (18-9-5).  In their last 14 games, the Wild have posted a record of 2-8-4, and have lost 4 in a row.  The Sabres, as we all know, are in a rebuilding year, having lost their last 8 games.  The Sabres come into tonight’s matchup with only 31 points (14-27-3), dead last in the Eastern Conference (only the Edmonton Oilers have less points than the Sabres).  It’s safe to say that these two teams can smell blood in the water and will be going after each other as soon as the puck drops tonight in Buffalo.

With the Wild coming to town, the Sabres opens their arms back up to former great Thomas Vanek.  Vanek was drafted 5th overall by the Sabres back in 2003.  The Austrian hockey star began his playing career in the NHL for the Sabres in 2005.  From 2005 to the day he was traded back in 2013, Vanek complied some of the greatest goal scoring numbers in team history (10th in points, 4th in goals, 13th in assists).  Tonight marks the return of Vanek on the ice.  Yes, he came back with the Montreal Canadians after being traded, but Vanek did not play in that game.  Tonight is the first time we get to see Thomas Vanek play for the opposing team in First Niagara Center.  Vanek is third on the team in points this season, totaling 7 goals and 18 assists.

Not only will Thomas Vanek make his return, but also so will Jason Pominville.  I can still hear Rick Jeanneret screaming P-P-P-POMINVILLE.  Anyways, the former Sabres captain returns to First Niagara Center tonight with the Wild.  It was not the most popular decision to trade Pominville, but it was necessary.  The Sabres were rebuilding and Pominville was getting older.  He deserved the chance to win somewhere else.  Pominville leads the Wild in points this season, totaling 9 goals and 24 assists.

 Despite the feelings and emotions of tonight, we still have a hockey game to play.  Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild has been on fire lately.  This season, Zucker has totaled 15 goals (tops on the team) and 5 assists in only 38 games.  Zucker is on pace for a 30 goal season.  Another player to watch out for is the former New York Islander, Nino Niederreiter.  Nino is having another outstanding season for the Wild.  The sniper has put 14 goals in the back of the twine this season.  Oh yeah, don’t forget about Zach Parise either.

Look for another stellar performance from Zemgus Girgensons.  Zemgus seems to be the only consistent played in the Sabres lineup this season.  To date, Zemgus has 11 goals and 9 assists and leads the NHL in votes for the All-Star Game, beating out the likes of Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Tavares.  Also, keep your eyes on Matty Moulson tonight.  The Sabres winger will be going up against his former team tonight.  Moulson, while only playing in Minnesota for a short period of time, enjoyed his stint there.  Moulson only had positive things to say about the coaching staff, front office and players for the Wild.  Expect Moulson to come out on the ice tonight with a chip on his shoulder, looking to beat his former teammates.

Some other key notes, Tyler Myers returned to the lineup exactly 10 days ago in a game against the New Jersey Devils.  Myers ice time has slowly been increasing after being placed on IR with a lower body injury.  Expect a full game from Myers tonight.  Watch for Myers on the power play in front of the net.  Usually Myers conducts most of the passing from either point during the power play.  Ted Nolan may try and put his big body in front of the goaltender to screen and/or deflect a puck into the net.

Bill O'Hare will be in the press box tonight covering the game.  You can follow him on twitter for live updates @BillyBuckets27.