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Meet Me North of Buffalo: Blackhawks at Sabres Preview

The Blackhawks head northeast to face a team with an emerging young core.

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Chicago Blackhawks v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

After a wildly successful homestand, the Chicago Blackhawks have a one-game road trip on Saturday to kick off a weekend back-to-back, starting with Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres have an identical 4-3 record as the Blackhawks and have been one of the more interesting teams to watch through the early stages of the season. With no playoff appearances in a decade, whatever long-term plans that had been in place in Buffalo were not going as planned, but that could be changing now, as a young core is breathing new life into the franchise.

Forwards up front include Casey Mittelstadt (2017, No. 8 overall pick), Dylan Cozens (2019, No. 7) and Jack Quinn (2020, No. 8). On the blue line, 2019 No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin has been joined by 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power to give Buffalo its potential top blue-line duo of the next 10-15 years. Toss in a few other depth pieces like 2020 second-round JJ Peterka and veterans like Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner and old friend Vinnie Hinostroza, and it all adds up to a team which looks like it may finally be on some sort of upward trajectory after years of languishing near the bottom of the league.

Dahlin has been the story of the season for Buffalo so far, tying an NHL record by scoring in each of the five first games. He still leads the way with nine points (5 G, 4 A) while Tuch is right behind with eight (6 G, 2 A). Behind them are four players with five points apiece: Victor Oloffson (4 G, 1 A), Cozens (3 G, 2 A), Mittelstadt (1 G, 4 A) and Hinostroza (5 A). In net, younger journeyman Eric Comrie (203, .909 SV%, 3.41 GAA) has been outplayed in an extremely small sample by veteran journeyman and old, old friend Craig Anderson (2-0, .970, 1.00). Buffalo won four of its first five but has cooled somewhat this week, losing to the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday and the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Given the inconsistencies often associated with younger rosters, it’s anyone’s guess at which version of the Sabres shows up on Saturday.

As for the Blackhawks, injury-related developments have necessitated a few lineup changes. With Petr Mrazek out, Arvid Soderblom is on hand for this pair of weekend games and should be making his season debut on Saturday. Also, Boris Katchouk will be making his season debut as well after being activated from injured reserve on Friday.

Katchouk is 24, which is just young enough that he could be considered a long-term piece of the puzzle in Chicago, while Soderblom will continue to have the label of “potential goalie of the future” until he proves otherwise. That means two more players worth keeping an eye during this game. Outside of that, another bonkers game like Thursday’s 6-5 loss to the Oilers wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Let’s go Hawks.

Tale of the tape (statistics from last season)

Blackhawks — Statistic — Sabres

45.98% (30th) — Corsi For — 48.50% (20th)

45.48% (30th) — Expected goals for — 46.18% (28th)

2.60 (29th) — Goals per game — 2.79 (22nd)

3.52 (26th) — Goals against per game — 3.50 (25th)

49.6% (16th) — Faceoffs — 46.0% (32nd)

19.2% (21st) — Power play — 21.2% (16th)

76.2% (24th) — Penalty kill — 76.4% (23rd)

Projected lineups (card subject to change)

Blackhawks

Athanasiou — Domi — P. Kane

Katchouk— Toews — Raddysh

Kurashev — Dickinson — Lafferty

Blackwell — Entwistle — R. Johnson

J. Johnson — S. Jones

Tinordi — Murphy

McCabe — C. Jones

Söderblom

Stalock

Sabres

Skinner — Thompson — Tuch

Quinn - Mittelstadt — Olofsson

Peterka — Cozens — Hinostroza

Krebs — Girgensons — Okposo

Dahlin — Bryson

Power — Fitzgerald

Clague — Lyubushkin

Anderson/Comrie

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Radio: WGN 720

Live stream: Sling TV