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Super Freak: Blackhawks-Sabres Preview

A pair of teams near the bottom of the league standings meet at the United Center on Monday night.

NHL: MAR 07 Sabres at Blackhawks Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks are back home at the United Center Monday night to host the Buffalo Sabres in a battle of bottom-feeding NHL teams.

Chicago is coming off a fairly successful three-game road trip against Pacific Conference teams — going 2-1-0.

The Sabres come to Chicago for the second in a back-to-back, having lost 5-4 in overtime on Sunday to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It puts the Sabres at 3-0-2 in their last five, a respectable record considering four of those opponents are playoff teams. While they’re still one of the weakest statistical teams in the league — their expected goals percentage (44.74) is second to last — it’s admirable how Buffalo has been playing up to their competition as of late, especially considering the young ages of many of the key Sabres players.

Speaking of young players on the Sabres, Tage Thompson has been a big reason for the strong play for the Sabres as of late, with five points (3 G, 2 A) in his last five games. He’s now just three goals shy of the 30-goal mark for the first time in his young NHL career. Jeff Skinner — who feels perpetually young — also has 27 goals on the season, but he’s played more games than Thompson. Alex Tuch (0.76 points-per-game), Dylan Cozens (0.49), Peyton Krebs (0.47), and Casey Mittelstadt (0.46) are all having solid seasons as well considering how limited the Sabres have been offensively.

Defensively, Rasmus Dahlin hasn’t been the undisputed high impact defensemen expected when he was drafted first overall in 2018, but he’s had an outstanding year offensively with the third highest PPG rate on the Sabres at 0.64. His primary partner, Henri Jokiharju, has been pretty solid in his own right since Don Granato took over behind the Sabres bench last season. Mattias Samuelsson, another young defender, has been playing more in his last five games and has three assists in that span to show for it. These three players are the youngest on the blue line but have been tasked with playing the most minutes among Sabres defensemen over the last five games.

Elsewhere in the Buffalo lineup, Kyle Okposo scored his first goal in 10 games on Sunday against the Rangers. Dustin Tokarski — who is likely to start against the Blackhawks — has a .957 save-percentage over his last 3 games, considerably higher than his season save-percentage of .907. The Sabres scored just their second power play goal in their last 10 games on Sunday.

The Blackhawks are coming off an overtime loss of their own, squandering a three-goal lead in the third period before falling 5-4 to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. It showed the good and the bad of this current iteration of the Blackhawks: they do have some top-end talent that can dazzle, but the team can also fall apart quickly defensively. The Golden Knights scored three goals in just under two minutes in the third period, another example of the Blackhawks allowing their opponent to score in batches in a very short period of time. The momentary lapse against Vegas erased two strong periods from the Blackhawks, and they unfortunately never recovered despite taking the lead again later in the third period.

The stars for Chicago continued to shine in the game, though. Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, and Seth Jones all extended their points streaks to five games with 10 points (2 G, 8 A), seven points (3 G, 4 A), and five points (1 G, 4 A), respectively. Alex DeBrincat is on a point-streak as well with seven points (3 G, 4 A) in his last four games. Jonathan Toews also had a goal and assist to bring his points total to four (2 G, 2 A) in his last five games. Depth continues to be an issue, but when the top is going, the Blackhawks are typically competitive in their games.

A few other Blackhawks notes from the last game: Dominik Kubalik snapped a nine-game goal drought, it was the first pointless game for Taylor Raddysh since his trade to Chicago and the Blackhawks are just 3-for-11 on the power play in their last five games.

Kirby Dach’s status for the game is unknown after he missed morning skate with a non-COVID illness.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Sabres

46.30% (29th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 47.30% (23rd)

45.67% (28th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 44.74% (31st)

2.65 (25th-T) — Goals per game — 2.65 (25th-T)

3.44 (24th) — Goals against per game — 3.48 (26th)

48.4% (21st) — Faceoffs — 46.1% (32nd)

20.5% (17th) — Power play — 18.8% (24th)

76.3% (23rd) — Penalty kill — 75.9% (24th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Lafferty — Toews — Raddysh

Kurashev — Dach — Kubalik

Katchouk — R. Johnson — Entwistle

Stillman — S. Jones

de Haan — C. Jones

Stillman — Gustafsson

Delia/Lankinen

Sabres

Skinner — Thompson — Tuch

Asplund — Middlestadt — Olofsson

Krebs — Cozens — Hinostroza

Girgensons — Eakin — Okposo

Dahlin — Jokiharju

Miller — Pysyk

Samuelsson — Bryson

Anderson/Tokarski

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+