BY: DAVID KOLB
BUFFALO SABRES (14-15-8) @ CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (23-12-5)
FIRST OF TWO
Tonight, the Sabres will travel to Chicago where they face the Blackhawks at United Center. This marks the first of two games the teams will play this season. Buffalo will look to gain their second win in a row following their 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Chicago will look to rebound from Monday’s Winter Classic loss to the St. Louis Blues, as the Blackhawks have not dropped a game to the Sabres since Dec. 11, 2009.
If he’s given a thumbs-up from the Sabres’ medical staff, center Ryan O’Reilly could return to the ice as early as tonight. O’Reilly underwent emergency surgery (appendectomy) less than two weeks ago. However, he was on the ice practicing Wednesday and said afterward that he felt he was ready to return for tonight’s tilt. In 27 games this season, O’Reilly has seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points including ten power play points.
Blackhawks’ winger, Marian Hossa will return the Chicago lineup tonight after being sidelined since Dec. 20 due to an upper-body injury. Chicago struggled without Hossa, going 1-3-1 in five games. In 34 games this season, Hossa has been dead on accurate with his shot, producing a team-leading (tied with Artem Anisimov) 16 goals with seven assists.
CRAWFORD IN NET
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford is slated to start tonight for the Hawks. Crawford begins the night 13-8-3 with a 2.32 goals against average and a .927 save percentage this season. The netminder has had tons of success against Buffalo throughout his career, as he is 7-0-0 with a 1.70 goals against average and a .937 save percentage over the Sabres.
Sabres’ center Jack Eichel stayed hot in their last game against the Rangers, extending his point streak to four games when he netted a third-period power play goal. Eichel has two goals and three assists in his past four contests and now has seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 16 games this season.