Tonight is the first preseason game at the First Niagara Center since September of 2011. The lineups are set, and once again more young talent will be displayed tonight in Downtown Buffalo. The lineup looks like this:
I will be in attendance for the game tonight and I will be tracking a lot of activity throughout the game. I will be keeping my eyes out for guys like Armia, Larsson, and Ristolainen. All four guys are trying to make the squad, and they have to put it all on the line in the first game in front of the Sabres' faithful.
Joel Armia will be playing on the top line with Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson. Armia has been pretty good this preseason, but as WGR's Paul Hamilton told Howard Simon and Jeremy White yesterday, Armia looks like he is trying to play the game by himself. Hamilton stated that Armia tries to sneak through the opposition himself, but he either has the puck stolen away or he runs out of room when he gets free. Hamilton said Armia needs to know that his teammates are out there to with him too and he needs to be a team player. Armia has great hands and he is able to make some big time plays, but I agree that he needs to be the team player. Maybe Armia is just trying to impress the Sabres organization with his skills, but I know what he can do as an all-around player. Maybe playing with Vanek and Hodgson tonight will allow Armia to show the organization that he has a bright future with this team.
A player that I believe is going to win a spot on the Sabres roster is Johan Larsson. Larsson is a workhorse, and tonight will be playing on a line with Corey Tropp and Ville Leino. "The Bull" was playing with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford throughout training camp, but Stafford will be getting the night off and Ennis is going to play with Mikhail Grigorenko and Brian Flynn. Larsson has been good on face-offs this preseason, and he has been getting plenty of opportunities to get to the net. In two preseason games, Larsson has 3 shots and is a +1 but no points to account for. Larsson may not be a opening night starter, but I firmly believe that one of the 23 spots on the roster for October 2nd will be his.
Rasmus Ristolainen. What more can I say about the kid? Tonight he will be paired with Henrik Tallinder instead of his usual partner, Mike Weber, who has the night off. Ristolainen did not play in Columbus, but that has not stopped him from impressing everyone in training camp. I expect Ristolainen to wow the crowd tonight with his powerful shot and his smart decision-making. Maybe he can also learn something new from a veteran like Henrik Tallinder.
I am also looking forward to see Nikita Zadorov playing with Tyler Myers tonight on defense. Zadorov, who has looked very impressive so far, will have to play as the shut down defender tonight with Myers but I'm sure it will not stop him from being involved in the play. Zadorov is not even going to be in Buffalo for next year, or so we think, but he has been one of the most note-worthy players in camp. Again, I expect him to be stellar in the OHL and be ready for the NHL in a year or two.
As for the Hurricanes, Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Sekera will play tonight as they face their former team for the first time. Gerbe was bought-out by the Sabres in July and Sekera was traded in the McBain deal at the NHL Draft in June. I am looking forward to seeing them both return to Buffalo, even with the speculation of Sekera's comments about Buffalo. Gerbe will play on the top line playing left wing with Jeff Skinner and Jeremy Welsh. Sekera will be on the top defensive pairing with Justin Faulk.
Game time tonight is at 7pm, and can only be heard on WGR 550 am. Only 13 days now until October 2nd in Detroit.
If you follow me on Twitter @BraytonJWilson I will be giving live updates at the game. Feel free to leave comments or questions below.
Thanks for reading!