The Need to Knows
Time: 4:00 pm PT / 7:00 pm ET
The Place: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, NY
Where to Watch: ROOT Sports Northwest, MSG Buffalo, or ESPN+ for out-of-market fans
Where to Listen: KJR 93.3
An Opposing Viewpoint: On The Forecheck
Know Your Enemy
It’s been over two months since the Kraken faced off against the Buffalo Sabres in Seattle, and things have been overall trending decently for Buffalo since that time. The Sabres currently have 42 standings points and sit only two spots out of a wild cart spot in the Eastern Conference. While it’s not as impressive as the Kraken’s standings (third in the Pacific with 50 points), for Buffalo, still being in the playoff chase at this point in the season is a vast improvement for them compared to how so many recent years have gone.
If you’re still new to the league and haven’t learned yet, the Sabres are one of those teams where nothing ever seems to go right for them. Their seasons can start off bright and optimistic, but then suddenly everything falls apart. Heck, the one time they purposely decided they wanted to crash and burn, they weren’t able to secure the top pick in the draft lottery and had to settle for Jack Eichel — who is no longer even with the Sabres — when the real prize that draft was Connor McDavid. Plus, that rebuild didn’t turn out so well even with Eichel. It didn’t move the needle one bit for them.
Not only have the Sabres never won the Stanley Cup in their over 50 year history, they currently hold the longest playoff drought in NHL history. The last time they had a chance at competing for the Cup was in 2011. Of the Big Four professional men’s leagues, only the Sacramento Kings have a worse drought. (Yes, in case you somehow missed this back in the fall, that title no longer belongs to the Seattle Mariners!)
However, instead of peaking in November just to crash and burn, the Sabres’ success this season is looking far more sustainable. In December, they had a 8-2-1 record, and they’ve started off January going 2-2-0. However, it doesn’t exactly look great to see them dropping a 4-0 goose egg against the Flyers of all teams. Hockey is a weird game and anyone can win at any given moment, but still, it’s a pretty “yikes” moment of them.
The Sabres have also seen some surprising players break out into bona fide contributors. A couple seasons ago, no one would’ve known who Tage Thompson was, but the 6’6”, 25-year-old winger has exploded onto the scene. After a breakout 2021-2022 season that saw him put up 68 points in 78 games, for this season Thompson’s already at 31 goals (third most in the league), 24 assists, and 56 total points (fifth most in the league) in only 38 games. He’s not just on pace to surpass his career highs but to blow those totals out of the water. The last time these two teams met, the Kraken were successful at keeping him off the scoresheet, and they might need to do that again.
They Kraken have entered 2023 with a bang. Not only did they kick it off with a win at home against the Islanders, but they’ve been showing that long road trips might not be an issue for them. They swept the Canadian leg of this trip — something Matty Beniers probably feels extra proud about after having to wear a Team Canada jersey due to losing a World Juniors bet with Jordan Eberle. It was also the first time in team history that the Kraken won four games in a row on the road.
During this Canadian sweep, it also marked the first time they’ve strung together three games in a row scoring five or more goals. The offense is rolling on all cylinders, and while top contributors like Beniers, Eberle, Jared McCann and André Burakovsky have been doing their thing and getting on the scoresheet, it hasn’t been all on them. Depth scoring has been key. Players like Alex Wennberg, Daniel Sprong, and Vince Dunn have been getting on the board, Eeli Tolvanen has been making a major impact as he finally slots into the lineup, and Martin Jones has been playing strong in net as well — though on the second half of a back-to-back, the team will be putting Philipp Grubauer in as the starter against the Sabres.
There’s been a lot to like about how the Kraken are playing, but there’s also been a lot to like about how the Sabres are playing as well. This isn’t the Buffalo team of years past where it might look like an easy night on the schedule. The Kraken will need to keep their momentum rolling.