The Wild already had ample reason to focus on a strong start.
Its most recent game, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils Monday, was the latest example of how challenging it is to chase the game after falling behind early, and the Wild has added a more engaged debut to its to-do list.
But that priority only seems to become more vital Wednesday at KeyBank Center against a scuffling Sabres squad looking to snap out of its funk.
“The best part of your game is the beginning of the game,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You’re all excited to play at the beginning of the game. Getting out to a lead is going to be a little difficult and if you look at our team, almost every game we’ve been in has gone down to the wire – win or lose. So that’s what I anticipate tonight.”
The Sabres are second-to-last in the NHL and in the midst of a season-long, six-game winless skid. So this would be an optimal time for the Wild to package that late-game urgency that’s been a hallmark of many of its games and ship it to puck drop.
What also could help provide a boost is the significance of the game for Wild forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, as this is their first game in Buffalo since the two they were traded to the Wild from the Sabres in the offseason, along with a 2018 third-rounder, in exchange for winger Jason Pominville, defenseman Marco Scandella and a 2018 fourth-rounder.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Foligno said when asked about the reception he expected to receive from the fans. “I would like to think they appreciated my time here, and I appreciated it here. I loved being in Buffalo, and this is my home, as well, being born here. Maybe hear a boo or two, but hopefully nothing too loud.”
Nino Niederreiter-Mikko-Koivu-Mikael Granlund
Jason Zucker-Charlie Coyle-Eric Staal
Daniel Winnik-Zack Mitchell-Chris Stewart
Marcus Foligno-Matt Cullen-Tyler Ennis
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba
Gustav Olofsson-Kyle Quincey
(The Wild held an optional morning skate in Buffalo. This was how most of the lines looked at the end of Monday’s game).
7: Points for winger Mikael Granlund in his last four games.
4: Consecutive wins for the Wild in Buffalo.
.948: Save percentage for goalie Devan Dubnyk in five career starts against the Sabres.
16: Points for winger Zack Mitchell in 11 games with the Iowa Wild before his call-up Tuesday.
2: Wins for the Wild in 10 games when the opposition scores first.
About the Sabres:
The Sabres are off to a tough start in South Saint Paul native Phil Housley’s first season behind the bench. Buffalo sits last in the Eastern Conference with 14 points and has dropped its last six games (0-4-2). Winger Evander Kane leads the team in goals (12) and points (20), while center Jack Eichel has 17 points (five of which are goals). The Sabres have struggled on the power play, ranking 29th in the NHL at 14.9 percent. But the team has been impressive on the penalty kill, especially at home where it’s gone a perfect 26-for-26.