Preview: Winnipeg Jets look to slice up Buffalo Sabres in final game of 2013

Jen Fuller

The new look Buffalo Sabre's attempt to keep their win streak alive as they roll into icy Winnipeg

Preview

Still possessing the worst record in the league, the Buffalo Sabres under new management and a new coach are slowly righting the ship. Meanwhile in joyland, the Winnipeg Jets seem to have come out of the doldrums and are playing well defensively in front of Al "The Big Cubano" Montoya.

Just over a month ago the Buffalo Sabre's decided to do a complete reset organizationally. Hoping to regain some of the same wining philosophy that made them one of the teams to beat in the mid-90's, ownership brought in former Sabres star and NHL executive Pat Lafontaine, who's first move was to fire head coach Ron Rolston and bring back exiled (a whole other story) coach Ted Nolan. The Sabres had some good years under Nolan in the nineties, but there was some doubt as to whether his style would translate into today's game. So as always dear AIH readers lets retreat into the numbers courtesy of our friends at Die By the Blade, and see if things have indeed improved for the Sabres:

Since Nolan took over, the team's play has been significantly better, especially in the areas of consistent effort and shot differential. Take these two points from the ever-useful Sabres PR Twitter and their game preview from yesterday:

In the 18 games since Ted Nolan was hired, the team has taken 47.7% of all shots in their games (a minus-2.8 differential per game), up from 40.2% (a minus-12 differential per game) in the 20 games before his hiring.

The team has improved its team 5-on-5 Corsi for Percentage* from 35.6% before Ted Nolan’s hiring to 47.1% in the 18 games under his guidance. The 11.5% improvement is a significant mark, larger than the amount (11.2%) that currently separates the third- and 30th-ranked teams in the NHL.

So it looks as though Lafontaines decision to bring Nolan back from Siberia (literally) has borne early fruit. The Sabre's are 4-1-1 in their last six, that coupled with the drubbing the Jets took in their previous meeting makes tonight's game less of a gimme and more of a must win, especially if you're still a believer in the highly unlikely Jets playoff push.

Keys To The Game

Winnipeg

  1. Goal-tending - I know this sounds like a broken record, but the plain truth is that when the Jets get solid goal-tending they usually win. When they don't they're pooched. Of course there is now a full on goalie controversy in the works with Al Montoya seemingly playing himself into a starters role while Ondrej Pavelec continues to struggle. If Montoya starts again tonight and puts in another good performance the Jets will have very little choice but to play the hot hand.
  2. Defense - This has probably been the biggest problem with the Jets since their inception; a total lack of poise in their own end. The good news is that in the previous battle with the Colorado Avalanche the Jets actually pulled off a pretty tight defensive game. I hope it continues as I'm tired of having mini coronaries every time the puck enters the Jets zone.
  3. Mark Scheifele, and Jacob Trouba - If generation Jets can bring it again tonight, it should be exciting to watch
  4. Traffic - The Jets are going to have to go to the net against miller and stay there. The goals will be few and far between and will most likely be of the greasy variety.

Buffalo

  1. Ryan Miller - I was going to call this heading goal-tending, but really its all about Ryan Miller, he's the best player on this Buffalo club period. He stopped 49 shots in their last game against Ovi and the caps, nuff said.
  2. You've got nothing to lose - Play like it! You were out of the play off race a long time ago, your playing for yourselves and the fans. Play hard, take chances, have fun, why not?
  3. Get Chippy - Again you've got nothing to lose, get in there, grind it up and hopefully force a couple of power plays.
  4. Young Guns Activate - Buffalo has some good young shooters, get in the Jets zone and stay there. If you can get Al Montoya swimming, you'll get goals.

Player To Boo Mercilessly

I think we all know the answer to this one. Old silver medal himself: Ryan Miller

Prediction

Winnipeg Jets: 3

Buffalo Sabres: 2

Postscript

Nolan was my early choice to replace Noel back in November. I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin...

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