It’s a jam-packed Thursday night in the NHL, with a total of 13 games on the schedule. One of those games is an inter-conference matchup between the Buffalo Sabres (21-19-7) and the Dallas Stars (27-15-4).
Here is a preview for Thursday night’s game between the Sabres and Stars in Dallas, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
We’ll start with the Sabres, who responded nicely to four consecutive losses with wins in four of their last six contests. They come into Thursday night with two straight wins: a 5-1 victory at the Red Wings and a 4-2 win at home versus the Golden Knights.
Buffalo has been an average offensive team this season, scoring the 19th-best average of 2.96 goals per game. The Sabres are reaching that figure on 29.7 shots, which ranks just 26th in the league. Their power play is ranked 16th, finding success on the man-advantage 19.9 percent of the time.
The Sabres are also fairly average on the other side of the ice, ranking 20th with 3.15 goals allowed per game. They also rank 12th in shots allowed with 31.2. Buffalo is much better defending at even strength, evident by a lowly penalty-kill percentage of 74.8, which is 28th in the league.
For the Stars, their recent six-game winning streak was snapped last week in San Jose against the Sharks. But they rebounded nicely, earning a 3-2 overtime win on the road against the Avalanche. Dallas has won seven of its last 10 to move into second place in their division.
After struggling for much of the season to score, Dallas has now moved up to 24th in the NHL in goals with 2.65, shooting at the 21st-best rate of 30.6 percent. The Stars’ power play is solid at 20.5 percent, which ranks 12th in the league. They have also been very good in the faceoff circle.
Once again, the Stars are stout defensively. No team is allowing fewer goals per game than Dallas, which lets in 2.33 goals per game. The Stars are allowing a modest 31.8 shots per game, 20th in the NHL, but have the league’s third-best penalty kill at 83.8 percent.
Who To Watch
Certainly, for the Sabres, there is one standout player who carries the load. Jack Eichel is off to a career-best start, racking up a team-high 61 points on 28 goals and 33 assists. After a two-point night against the Golden Knights in Buffalo’s last game, the former second overall pick in 2015 is riding an eight-game point streak and hopes to keep it going against one of the league’s top defenses.
Sam Reinhart is also someone to keep an eye on, as the young center is up to 16 goals this season as well.
The Stars don’t have the point machine on their team like what Eichel has been, but they still boast several capable players. One of them in Tyler Seguin, who is leading the team with 35 points on 11 goals and 24 assists. Seguin has dished out assists in three of the last four games for Dallas but is in search of his first goal since Dec. 28 against the Avalanche.
Perhaps he can find the back of the net against one of the weaker defensive clubs Thursday night. Eyes should also be on the young winger Roope Hintz, who is the team leader in goals with 15.
The Sabres are expected to send Linus Ullmark out to defend their net. Ullmark is 15-12-3 with a 2.78 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Look for the Stars to counter with Ben Bishop, who is 16-9-3 with a 2.23 GAA and .930 save percentage.
Odds And Pick
The Stars are big favorites Thursday night, listed by oddsmakers at -210. Both teams are meeting under different circumstances than when they played back on Oct. 14, when the Sabres cruised to a 4-0 victory at home.
For this game, I’m siding with Dallas. Its defense is top-notch and has been able to contain offenses greater than what Buffalo certainly offers. I could see this being a low-scoring game, but with the advantage Bishop gives them in net and their ability to limit any offense against them, give me the Stars -210 to keep rolling as we inch closer to the All-Star break.