Canucks vs. Sabres Game Day Preview: Zack’s back in town

Zack Kassian may be a creep, but would it hurt him to be a physical, goal-scoring creep too? (Vancouver Sun)

As bad as the Philadelphia Flyers are in the standings, the Buffalo Sabres are just as inept. The two are toiling away in the bottom of the Eastern Conference and if their early performances have been any indication, they’ll be there for quite some time.

On the second leg of a seven-game roadie, the Canucks have a chance to pick up consecutive road wins with what should be an easy opponent in Buffalo. After coming from behind to defeat the Flyers late on Tuesday, Vancouver can build some momentum with another two points.

What to watch

Too often lately have the Canucks entered the third period trailing. Vancouver’s been behind going into the final 20 minutes the last three occasions (San Jose, Montreal, Philadelphia) and would be best served with a strong start. I mean, they say it isn’t about how you start and it’s about how you finish, but would it kill anyone to come out of the gate with a little fire and perhaps a one- or two-goal lead?

Who to watch

After being largely invisible for the early part of the season, the Canucks finally got some goal support from Ryan Kesler, who chipped in with a pair of goals. He’s minus-four on the year which is worst on the team and also very uncharacteristic of him, but perhaps RK17 has turned the corner at just the right time.

Ditto goes for Chris Higgins, who finally bumped a goal-scoring slump dating all the way back to a regular season game against Edmonton — a span of 16 regular games — to pot the eventual game-winning marker in Philadelphia. Now, if only John Tortorella can find a way to get the likes of David Booth and Zack Kassian going, a lot of those questions about scoring support will be answered.

Speaking of Kassian, he returns to Buffalo for the first time since being traded at the 2012 trade deadline for Cody Hodgson. Kassian’s been largely subpar since the trade, and so far since returning from suspension has yet to show any of the fire and spark that management expected from him when the deal was consummated. It’ll still be a long time before anyone can judge who won the trade, but the fact that Hodgson is leading the Sabres in scoring early (despite his defensive deficiencies) surely isn’t currying Kassian any favour among the Canuck faithful.

Sticking with the Sabres, they’re getting a nice bounceback campaign from Ryan Miller, who despite just one win in five outings has a .939 save percentage. Miller was Team USA’s goaltender in the 2010 Olympics and while most pundits have pegged the likes of Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, and Jimmy Howard for the 2014 roster, Miller is showing early he’s ready to put up a fight.

Who’s out

This game marks the last we’ll see of Alex Edler on the sidelines as he sits out the final contest of a three-game suspension, meaning we’ll likely see Yannick Weber as a healthy scratch from here on, barring injuries.

Alex Burrows is still out with a foot injury.

For the Sabres, one-time free agent superstar Ville Leino is on injured reserve, so we won’t be able to watch him do nothing on the ice for $4-million a season. Patrick Kaleta is serving his umpteenth suspension for a dangerous hit — this one a ten-gamer — and centre Zemgus Girgensons is questionable after suffering a cut to the face last game.

Matt Lee

Matt Lee has been a Canucks follower and a prototypical Canadian for years; it started on the streets by playing road hockey before and after Vancouver Canucks games and it's brought him here. After graduating from SFU with a BA in Communications and a minor in History while serving as the student newspaper's sports editor for two years, Matt is now a student at BCIT's Broadcast Journalism program in hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster.

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