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PREVIEW: Game 18 - Vancouver Canucks @ Buffalo Sabres

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All of Sweden will be tuning in to watch Elias Pettersson battle Rasmus Dahlin

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Buffalo Sabres
The Canucks and Sabres have both surprised early in the season. Too early to call this a 2019 Stanley Cup Final preview?
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks (10-6-1) @ Buffalo Sabres (8-6-2)

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, NY

When: 10:00 am PST

Where to Watch: All Sportsnet Networks

SB Nation Opposition Blog: Die By The Blade

Prior to Thursday’s matchup, all of the talk was about Brad Marchand potentially going after Elias Pettersson. Well, that storyline was inconsequential, and so were both players for most of the game. Instead, the rest of the Canucks stepped up to net eight goals against the Boston Bruins.

In an unbelievably weird game on Thursday night, the Canucks chased the league’s save percentage leader from the crease and scored eight, with none coming from Pettersson. In fact, EP only got on the scoresheet after setting up Shotgun Jake’s sixth goal of the season.

In case you missed it, Pettersson also set a Canucks franchise record on Thursday.

In Sweden, this game will be prime time viewing. Never mind The Alien vs. The Rat, this matchup pits two of Sweden’s best young players against each other.

Welcome to EP40 versus Rasmus Dahlin.

It’s safe to say that Dahlin hasn’t lit the NHL on fire like his Swedish counterpart, but he’s held his own for the Sabres early on. It took him a few games to adjust, but he’s been at 50% of above in terms of scoring chances in eight of the last ten games.

Instead of listening to me ramble about the 2018 first overall pick, I asked Anthony Sciandria of Die By The Blade to give us his breakdown of Dahlin’s play so far.

“Despite the fact that he hasn’t really produced a ton of offense, Dahlin has quickly become the Sabres’ best defender (not that he’s had a ton of competition in that regard).”

“His hockey sense is that of a savvy veteran and his ability to seamlessly hit the tape on nearly every one of his passes is what makes him so elite.”

“Some people want to panic about his lack of involvement offensively so far, but as he gains more experience (and subsequently, more ice time), the points will surely come. We’ve already seen flashes of brilliance in transition, on the power-play and especially in his own end, where he’s been surprisingly effective for a rookie.”

It’s not easy coming into the NHL as an 18-year-old defenceman, but Dahlin seems to be picking up the NHL game quickly. Not everyone can come in and dominate like EP, but we could be looking at a matchup between the NHL’s two best Swedish players in three years time.

The Canucks

Forwards

Nikolay Goldobin - Elias Pettersson - Jake Virtanen

Tim Schaller - Bo Horvat - Loui Eriksson

Antoine Roussel - Markus Granlund - Tyler Motte

Darren Archibald - Adam Gaudette - Brendan Leipsic

Defence

Ben Hutton - Erik Gudbranson

Derrick Pouliot - Chris Tanev

Michael Del Zotto - Troy Stecher

Projected Starter: Jacob Markstrom

The most notable thing about this line-up is the new top line that Travis Green put together at the end of last game.

After playing mainly on checking lines this season, Virtanen finally got his shot alongside Pettersson on the Canucks top line. He contributed right away, finishing a set up from both Pettersson and Goldobin to give the Canucks their eighth goal of the game on Wednesday.

Virtanen had 17 goals in 140 games coming into the season. He now has six in 17 games in 2018-19. Virtanen needs to show some more consistency before we start hailing this as a breakout season, but he’s definitely playing some of the best hockey of his career right now.

After playing well without scoring, it’s nice to see Goldobin’s name show up in the scoresheet. He now has six assists in his last five games to give him nine points in 17 games. He hasn’t score since opening night (16 games), so maybe Bo needs to give him “the talk.”

The Sabres

Forwards

Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Jason Pominville

Conor Sheary - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo

Vladimir Sobotka - Evan Rodrigues - Sam Reinhart

Patrik Berglund - Johan Larsson - Tage Thompson

Defence

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Marco Scandella - Zach Bogosian

Nathan Beaulieu - Rasmus Dahlin

Projected Starter: Carter Hutton

While the Colorado Avalanche’s top trio of Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen get a lot of love, the Sabres currently boast the second hottest line in hockey.

Jeff Skinner fit seamlessly alongside Jack Eichel on the Sabres top line, and he leads the Sabres in goals with 11 in 16 games.

What’s more surprising is that the right-winger on that line isn’t Okposo or Reinhart, but Jason Pominville.

The 35-year-old Pominville, who just hit the 1,000 game mark, hasn’t potted more than 18 goals or 50 points since the 2013-14 season. This year, he’s already up to eight goals and 15 points in 16 games. Kudos to Pominville for receiving the golden ticket to play with the Sabres two best players.

On defence, the Sabres are still trying to play Rasmus Ristolainen like he’s Erik Karlsson (hint, he’s not). Risto is averaging more than 25 minutes per game. The next most used defenceman on the Sabres roster is Marco Scandella (19:35/game).

Last note: Carter Hutton should start after Linus Ullmark received the hook against Montreal. Still, it’s safe to wonder how long the Sabres will roll with Hutton. He has four “quality starts” in 11 appearances this season.

Hutton has played well against the Canucks though. In three games, Hutton is 1-1 with a 1.32 GAA and a .955 save percentage. Remember what happened the last time the Canucks faced a goalie with a +.950 save percentage?

Game Day Battle Hymn

Nothing like a little Rage Against the Machine on a Saturday morning. What better way to wake up?

(Even if most of you disagree, make sure you’re alarms are set. Puck drops just after 10 am).

Enjoy the game y’all.