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Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

WGD #58: Three things to watch for against Buffalo

Less than a week removed from their 4-3 shootout victory, the Red Wings are back in Buffalo again. This time kicking off a four game road trip that will venture them into New Jersey, Boston, Pittsburgh, and then back home on Tuesday. But the contest at hand, Buffalo, as many know, are in a major midseason rut. The epitome of their struggles couldn’t have been emphasized any better than losing to the Red Wings on Thursday.

Detroit will hope to build off their 3-1 win against Boston two nights ago and pick up a second straight dub. They played an OK game versus the Sabres earlier in the week, although, there is certainly room for improvement.

Projected Lines

Detroit Red Wings

There is good news and bad news. The good news: Anthony Mantha is returning to the lineup well ahead of schedule. There was a scare at one point that he could miss the rest of the season with a punctured lung. Jeff Blashill and staff will gladly welcome Mantha back into the lineup, most likely on the first-line with running mates Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi.

The bad news: Robby Fabbri will miss the game with an upper body injury. The first year Red Wing left Sunday’s game early after taking a big open ice hit from Bruins forward Chris Wagner. He joins Filip Zadina as forwards on the shelf.

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Buffalo Sabres

Rasmus Dahlin is back and healthy for the Sabres. The 19-year-old blue-liner missed several games and his absence was sorely felt. Not only does his return add another difference maker for the Red Wings to focus on, but he pushes players down the lineup. That’s ideal for Rasmus Ristolainen and Henri Jokiharju, now being able to slot into their appropriate role on the defensive corps.

Expected to start in net is Carter Hutton, who was the backup in last week’s matchup.

Three Thoughts

1.) Reinhart’s back check

The story after the Red Wings 4-3 win last week came from the Sabres locker room. Sam Reinhart was asked about his poor effort on a back check that led to a Red Wings goal. Rightfully so, Reinhart felt insulted by the question and did not comment. However, with the way criticism was thrown right in his face, no matter the validity of the question, I’m sure Reinhart will be playing at 110% tonight. It has to be lingering in the back of his mind.

For the Red Wings defense, that means they need to be on their A-game. Reinhart is already a highly dangerous offensive threat, producing 20 goals and 45 points in 54 games this season. Some added sandpaper in his game could only make things more difficult.

2.) The return of Mantha

The impact of getting Mantha back on the top-line cannot be understated. He’s arguably Detroit’s most dangerous scorer with 12 goals in 29 games so far. Over a full 82 game season he would be on pace for 33 goals. There is also the fact that his size and skill can break open a game at any time.

Since his injury, Blashill has struggled to find a perfect combination for the top-line. Filip Zadina and Robby Fabbri have had their moments playing with Larkin, but nothing that set the world on fire. The unit of Bertuzzi-Larkin-Mantha has already established strong chemistry. The trio started the year off on an absurd scoring pace. Having that proven group reunited will help Detroit string some consistency together on offense, and (hopefully) avoid being shutout three times in four games again.

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3.) All hail Bernier

Jonathan Bernier flat out stole the game against Boston, making 39 of 40 saves. Over the course of the season he has continuously gotten better and this has been his best stretch of games. Having a goaltender finally find a rhythm in net is great news for the Red Wings. They don’t have to go into next season in the dark for goaltending if they don’t want to — Bernier has proven he’s capable of being the guy.

With that said, Bernier will be tonight’s starter. He turned away 29 of the Sabres’ 32 shots last week en route to a shootout win. On the season Bernier has a 12-14-2 record, significantly better than Jimmy Howard’s 2-21-2 record.