EDMONTON – The Buffalo Sabres will have a slightly different look on Thursday as they attempt to snap a seven-game losing streak against the Edmonton Oilers. Matt Hackett will get the start in goal, and Marcus Foligno has been moved to a line with Buffalo’s two hottest players, Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis.
Michal Neuvirth took part in today’s practice at a suburban Edmonton rink, but interim coach Ted Nolan doesn’t expect him to be ready for game action until at least Sunday in Vancouver. That opens the door for Hackett to make his first start as a member of the Sabres tomorrow at Rexall Place.
Hackett, acquired from Minnesota in the Jason Pominville trade at last year’s deadline, is 13-17-2 in 33 games with the Rochester Americans this season, with a 3.07 GAA and .898 save%. The 24-year-old had 13 games of NHL experience with the Wild before joining Buffalo, posting a record of 3-7-0 with 2.64 GAA and .914 save%.
Nolan said that Hackett’s start is as much about timing as it is evaluation.
“Nathan (Lieuwen) has gotta be proud of himself the way he’s played (so far). But to overload him real quick is unfair to him, so we’ll go to Hackett. He’s played really well down in the AHL so he deserves a chance,” said Nolan. “It’s all about the evaluation period going forward here, especially looking to the future to see who we’ve got and what we’ve got. Hackett came in with good credentials in the beginning so we’ll see what he has.”
Something else that Nolan would like to see is more offense from his forwards, and that’s where he hopes Foligno can help out. Stafford (4) and Ennis (2) have combined to score all six of Buffalo’s goals during the current losing streak, and Nolan hopes that shuffling the deck up front will result in more scoring. Foligno will take the place of Cory Conacher who had skated with the red-hot duo since joining the Sabres six games ago.
“(Stafford and Ennis), they’ve both got their game going. You can’t ask for much more from them. It’d be unfair for us to break them up,” explained Nolan. “With Conacher, I think he had a couple of empty net tap in goals that he missed. Maybe it’ll be good for Marcus to get in that position, and maybe his confidence will rise. It’s just one of those things where we have to shake it up and try to create some offense somewhere.”
Cody Hodgson was back at center today following a brief stint on the wing, and he was flanked by Conacher and Torrey Mitchell. After skating on the fourth line in Calgary on Tuesday, newcomer Nicolas Deslauriers will now get a chance to play left wing with Brian Flynn and Matt D’Agostini.
Four players rotated through the fourth line in today’s practice, including Ville Leino who was demoted from third line action on Tuesday. Leino was joined by John Scott, Matt Ellis and Zenon Konopka, Buffalo’s lone healthy scratch against the Flames.
Marcus Foligno – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Cory Conacher – Cody Hodgson – Torrey Mitchell
Nicolas Deslauriers – Brian Flynn – Matt D’Agostini
Ville Leino – Matt Ellis – John Scott – Zenon Konopka
The 22-year-old Lieuwen will make his first NHL start tonight when Buffalo opens up a five-game road trip against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome. With Michal Neuvirth still hobbled by a lower body injury, Matt Hackett will serve as Lieuwen’s backup after being recalled from Rochester on Monday.
Lieuwen stopped all 10 shots sent his way on Sunday in his NHL debut when he was called in to play 21:45 against Montreal, after being summoned earlier that morning on an emergency recall. The 6-foot-5 Lieuwen has a 17-11-2 record in 32 games for the Amerks this season, registering a .922 save% and 2.34 GAA.
A native of Abbotsford, BC, Lieuwen will be quite familiar with his Saddledome surroundings tonight. Lieuwen played his junior hockey with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, and estimated that he played at least 30 games here over the course of his four-year junior career.
Nolan chatted with the always-smiling Lieuwen at the conclusion of today’s morning skate, simply reassuring the youngster that tonight’s game is just another step in his professional journey.
“I just talked to (Nathan) about how progression begins, and how it ends. He comes from a real good junior background, where you come in as a 17-year-old, and all of a sudden you’re leading them as a 19-year-old,” said Nolan. “It’s the same thing at this level. You go down to the American Hockey League, and then you come up to this level. It’s all part of the progression, and it’s just another hockey game.”
Neuvirth is on the road trip, but only had a brief stint on the ice today in his brand new Sabres goalie pads. Nolan was hesitant to say whether Neuvirth will be back for Thursday’s game in Edmonton.
“He feels a lot better today, and even hopped on the ice with us for a little while. But we’ll continue to monitor it for another 24 hours.”
Torrey Mitchell will return to the Buffalo lineup tonight after missing the last six games with a lower-body injury sustained on March 6 in Tampa, his first game with the team after being acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline. With Mitchell coming back, Zenon Konopka will be Buffalo’s only healthy scratch.
Tyler Myers remains in Buffalo, and it’s uncertain whether he’ll be rejoining the team at any point over the next nine days.
Tonight’s game is the 99th all-time meeting between the Sabres and Flames. Buffalo is 48-34-16 against the Flames all-time, including an 18-20-11 mark in Calgary. Buffalo’s last win in Calgary was on October 18, 2003.
TONIGHT’S PROJECTED LINES
Cory Conacher – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Marcus Foligno – Brian Flynn – Cody Hodgson
Torrey Mitchell – Ville Leino – Matt D’Agostini
Nicolas Deslauriers – Matt Ellis – John Scott
Zenon Konopka (healthy scratch)
Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons played a huge role in determining the outcome of Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout win over Ottawa, and later today he’ll be involved in a video that will be watched by Brendan Shanahan at the NHL office in Manhattan.
From the NHL:
Ottawa Senators defenseman Jared Cowen will have a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety Wednesday for a hit on Buffalo Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons Tuesday night at First Niagara Center.
At 18:02 of the third period, Cowen came across the ice to hit Girgensons as he entered the Ottawa zone. No penalty was called on the play. Girgensons remained in the game.
The following grounds are being considered for supplemental discipline: illegal check to the head. However, the Department of Player Safety retains the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review.
Buffalo won the game, 2-1, in a shootout.
MONTREAL – Jhonas Enroth will look to improve on his perfect record against the Montreal Canadiens tonight when he gets the start for Buffalo at the Bell Centre.
Despite being just 1-5-2 this season, Enroth is 3-0-0 in his career against the Habs, along with a stingy 2.34 goals against average and .922 save%.
Tonight’s start will be the first for Enroth since he turned away 23 shots in a tough 1-0 overtime loss in New Jersey one week ago. Prior to that start, Enroth had gone two weeks without any game action.
Interim coach Ted Nolan said he’s spoken to Enroth and Ryan Miller about their playing time in recent days. With Miller having started 10 of Buffalo’s last 12 games, Nolan said he needs to be aware of when his number one goaltender could use a break.
“We had a nice meeting with the goaltenders about a week ago, and kind of mapped out a game plan. But it’s always subject to change,” explained Nolan. “The way Jhonas played last game, I had no hesitation about putting him back in today.”
Citing the need for additional speed up front against Montreal, Nolan said that Brian Flynn will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Thursday’s loss to the Rangers.
Drew Stafford and Christian Ehrhoff were the only two Sabres to not take part in today’s optional morning skate, however both will be in the lineup tonight. Defenseman Brayden McNabb got some extra work after the skate and is expected to be scratched. Nolan didn’t tip his hand as to which forward would be watching from the press box tonight.
Montreal comes into tonight’s game 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, including four straight wins. They currently occupy top spot in the Atlantic Division with a record of 18-9-3 (39 pts.), and have won five straight at home.
Tonight’s game is expected to be the 378th consecutive sell-out crowd at the always-raucous Bell Centre, which seats 21,273. It’s been almost 10 years since Montreal last played before a home crowd that was below capacity – January 8, 2004 vs. Tampa Bay.
SUNRISE, FLA. -- A lingering injury combined with a pair of suspensions will force the Buffalo Sabres to dress only 11 forwards and seven defensemen for tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers.
Henrik Tallinder will be the lone scratch on the blueline, and Jamie McBain will return after being a healthy scratch in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Boston. Following a two-game absence with a leg injury, forward Cody McCormick has been activated from Injured Reserve and is expected to start the game as part of Buffalo’s two-man fourth line along with Drew Stafford.
Sabres head coach Ron Rolston understands the challenge of juggling an extra defenseman, but also realizes he’s in a tough spot with the 23-man roster.
“We’ll rotate seven guys back there. But that’s kind of where we’re at with the roster,” explained Rolston following today’s morning skate at the BB&T Center. “We’ll have seven back there, and if anything happens up front, then we can move a guy up there.”
Ville Leino has been skating for the past few days and had hoped to come off IR this weekend, but he’ll remain out while nursing a rib injury that has sidelined him for the past 10 games. Rolston categorized Leino as a possibility for Monday’s home game against Dallas.
“It’s basically about him getting back in shape now, and being comfortable doing what he’s gotta do when he’s playing,” said Rolston. “That’s taking hits and getting hit. And if he’s gonna have the puck he’s gonna get hit. So he’s gotta be ready for that and comfortable with that, so it’s probably going to be next week.”
Forwards Patrick Kaleta (seventh game missed) and John Scott (first game) are both out of the Buffalo lineup due to their respective suspensions. Kaleta traveled with the Sabres and took part in today’s skate, while Scott remained in Buffalo.
Jhonas Enroth will get the start in goal for Buffalo tonight, and it will be the first time he’s ever faced the Panthers. Enroth’s counterpart in the Florida cage will be fellow Swede Jacob Markstrom.
Forward Kevin Porter was placed on waivers Thursday, and was assigned to Rochester today after officially clearing as of 12 Noon. Rolston thinks very highly of Porter, and said the decision to waive him was a difficult one.
“It’s always the toughest thing you have to do, to cut somebody or waive somebody, whatever the case may be. I have a lot of respect for [Kevin]. He came here last year when I got here, and worked really hard for us and played really well. He’s a guy that brings it every day and battles, and he’s a real good teammate.
“It’s a difficult thing, but it’s kind of where we’re at. Especially with the amount of young guys that are getting opportunity here. It’s a tough thing and I know he’ll land on his feet and have a good attitude about it and keep working.”
The Panthers are midway through a season-high six-game homestand at BB&T Center, going 1-1-1 through the first three. Their last game was a 3-2 shootout loss to Chicago on Tuesday, after having battled back from a two-goal deficit in the third period. Rookie Aleksander Barkov is second on the Panthers in scoring with seven points (3+4) in 10 games, numbers that rank him third among NHL freshmen.
The Sabres have swept nine of their 30 Florida/Tampa Bay road trips in franchise history, including six of the last 14 since 2005. Buffalo has a record of 19-8-1 in the Sunshine State during this time, and they are 6-3-1 in the last 10 on the road against the Panthers.
Tonight’s game opens Buffalo’s third of 13 sets of back-to-back games this season. The Sabres are 0-2-0 in the first game of back-to-back sets and 1-1-0 in the second game this season. Buffalo’s point breakdown in back-to-back sets this season is: four points (0), three points (0), two points (1), one point (0) and zero points (1).
The subject of trade rumors and speculation since April, Thomas Vanek says he hasn’t been fazed by all the chatter. Speaking today with ABC affiliate KTSP in Minneapolis, the veteran winger said he expects to be a member of the Buffalo Sabres when camp opens in September.
“As of right now, yeah. I haven’t heard anything differently. I’m preparing myself like I’m going back to Buffalo, so that’s what I’m doing.
“I’m not flattered by (trade speculation) by any means. I’ve enjoyed my time in Buffalo and I’m looking forward to going back. In this business you can’t look into that stuff, read the internet or look at the papers too much. If something happens, I’m sure my agent or the GM in Buffalo will call me and tell me where I’m going.”
The 29-year-old Vanek is entering the final season of a seven-year contract that will pay him $6.4 million (with a cap hit of $7.14 million) in 2013-14. Despite playing in just 38 of Buffalo’s 48-game lockout-shortened schedule in 2013, Vanek’s 20 goals marked his eighth consecutive season of 20 or more goals.
With the trades of Jason Pominville, Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr at the deadline, coupled with GM Darcy Regier’s comments that the Sabres were going to have a younger core group moving forward, many assumed that Vanek would be the next domino to fall. But as training camp approaches, Vanek knows that may not be the case.
“We’re rebuilding, and I’m hoping we have the right pieces to accomplish something. I’m not saying I’m old. At 29, I’ve still got many years left,” Vanek explained. “But at the same time, you like to be on a team where you feel like going into camp you’re contending. You’re not guaranteed to win a Cup, but right now in Buffalo I think we’re rebuilding which is not the best case scenario for me. But at the same time, there’s a lot of good young players and hopefully we pick the right ones.”
As the Buffalo Sabres prepare to face the New York Islanders in their final game of the regular season tonight at First Niagara Center, Ryan Miler is set to become the 62nd goaltender in NHL history to play in 500 games. Here’s a look back at some of the numbers Miller has accumulated during his outstanding 11-year NHL career in the Nickel City.
Born: July 17, 1980 (East Lansing, MI)
Drafted: 1999 Entry Draft, 5th round (138th overall)
Did You Know?
Ryan Miller has played more NHL games than the combined total of the 29 other players drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 Draft. (Leaders: Derek MacKenzie, 234; Niko Dimitrakos, 158).
Games played leaders from goaltenders drafted in 1999
Ryan Miller, 499 (Buffalo, 5th round)
Craig Anderson, 316 (Calgary, 3rd round)
Alex Auld, 237 (Florida, 2nd round)
Michael Leighton, 105 (Chicago, 6th round)
LISTEN TO MILLER TALK ABOUT THE 500-GAME MILESTONE
First NHL game: November 19, 2002 @ New Jersey (4-3 OTL)
First NHL win: November 22, 2002 vs. Columbus (5-4)
First NHL shutout: January 14, 2003 @ Minnesota (1-0)
SINGLE SEASON RECORDS:
Most wins: 41, 2009-10
Most shutouts: 6, 2011-12
Lowest GAA: 2.22, 2009-10
- Vezina Trophy, First All-Star Team, NHL Foundation Award: 2009-10
- won Silver Medal with Team USA
- Tournament MVP, Best Goalie & All-Star Team
- Miller will become the 62nd goaltender in NHL history to play 500 games. The last was Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who reached the milestone on April 5 at Pittsburgh. The last before Lundqvist was former Sabres goaltender Martin Biron, who also appeared in his 500th NHL game as a member of the Rangers in a road game against the Penguins, exactly one year prior to Lundqvist.
- When added to the list of 61 goaltenders who have played 500 NHL games, Miller currently ranks fifth with a .915 career save percentage. Dominik Hasek (.922, 1st) is the only retired goaltender to rank in the top 10 in save percentage among this group. Miller also ranks 14th among this elite group with a 2.59 GAA. In addition to topping the list in save%, Hasek also leads the “500 Club” with a GAA of 2.20.
- Miller, who has spent his entire career with the Sabres, will become the 20th goaltender in NHL history to play at least 500 games with one team, and the 12th to play his first 500 with the same team.
- Of the 19 goaltenders with 500 NHL games played with the same team, 12 of them played in the NHL Entry Draft era. Of these 12, half were drafted in the fifth round or later: Billy Smith, Miika Kiprusoff, Evgeni Nabokov, Kirk McLean, Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Turco. Only two (Martin Brodeur and Olaf Kolzig) were selected in the first round.
- Despite being ranked 62nd on the all-time games played list, Miller ranks 40th in wins (268). His record ranks him second among these goaltenders in win percentage (.549), seventh in points percentage (.607) and 19th in adjusted points percentage (.564), a measure in which all ties, overtime losses, and shootout wins/losses are counted as regulation ties to better compare goaltenders from different eras.
PITTSBURGH -- It was an optional morning skate for the Buffalo Sabres at the Consol Energy Center, with seven skaters and both goalies taking part in advance of tonight’s tilt with the red-hot-but-hobbled Pittsburgh Penguins. In addition to expected starting goaltender Ryan Miller, the following players were on the ice for the 30-minute workout: Jhonas Enroth, Brian Flynn, Marcus Foligno, Nathan Gerbe, Chad Ruhwedel, Mark Pysyk, Mikhail Grigorenko and Adam Pardy.
No lineup changes are expected as forward Patrick Kaleta remained in Buffalo with a hand injury. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will be in the lineup for a second straight game, after skating 15:18 last night against Winnipeg, his first NHL action since March 12 after being recalled from junior last week.
The last time the Sabres came to Pittsburgh on April 2, they brought an end to the Penguins’ 15-game winning streak, the second-longest such streak in NHL history. Tonight they’ll look to snap another successful run, as the Penguins come into the game as winners of seven in a row following a 3-1 victory in Ottawa on Monday. A second win in Pittsburgh this year would be the first time since 2005-06 that the Sabres will have won two consecutive regular-season road games in the Steel City. It would also be just the fifth time in franchise history the Sabres have won two or more consecutive games in Pittsburgh.
Tonight’s game also wraps up Buffalo’s ninth and final set of back-to-back games this season. Following last night’s 2-1 loss to Winnipeg at First Niagara Center, the Sabres dropped to 4-3-2 in the first game. Entering tonight’s game they are just 2-5-1 in the second of back-to-back games. Buffalo’s point breakdown in previous back-to-back sets is as follows: four points (2), three points (1), two points (1), one point (2) and zero points (2).
If the Buffalo Sabres want to play spoilers tonight against the Winnipeg Jets at First Niagara Center, they’ll have to accomplish two things they haven’t been able to do in the last five meetings between these two clubs: 1) win, and 2) score more than one goal.
Winnipeg defeated Buffalo 4-1 at the MTS Centre on April 9, and that was preceded by a 2-1 Jets win in Buffalo on February 19. The Sabres are 1-5-0 against the Jets since they relocated from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season, with Buffalo’s only win being a 6-5 OT decision on November 8, 2011. In their last six games, the Jets have outscored Buffalo by a 20-11 margin.
The Jets come into tonight’s game sitting in ninth spot in the Eastern Conference at 49 points with three games left to play. They are three points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers, while also trailing the Washington Capitals by three points for the lead in the Southeast Division.
Tyler Ennis knows the Sabres are in for a dogfight tonight facing a Jets team that is 5-0-1 in their last six games.
“They’re a good team, and they’re fighting for their lives. We know they are going to come out with everything. It’s do or die for them, and it should be intense.”
Jhonas Enroth will start in goal for the Sabres, following his 39 minutes of mop-up work in Friday’s 8-4 loss to the Rangers that eliminated Buffalo from playoff contention. In his last five starts, Enroth is 4-0-1 and has posted a .958 save% during this stretch. Enroth’s only previous start against the Jets was a 2-1 loss in Buffalo on January 7, 2012.
Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will return to the Sabres lineup for the first time since being recalled from his junior team last Tuesday. Grigorenko has five points (1+4) in 22 games for Buffalo this season, with his last game action coming on March 12 versus the Rangers.
Interim head coach Ron Rolston is interested to see how Grigorenko handles his role tonight against a gritty team like Winnipeg.
“We’re gonna put him in game situations, and see the compete and just his overall game against a team like Jets who are going to be desperate. We’ll find out.”
Patrick Kaleta will miss tonight's game after blocking a shot with his right hand in Friday's loss to New York. His status for the final two games is questionable at this point.
LISTEN TO ROLSTON'S' FULL AUDIO
“We have to take care of our destiny.”
Those were the simple words of Sabres interim head coach Ron Rolston this morning, as the Sabres prepared to face the New York Rangers at First Niagara Center tonight. With just four games left on their schedule, a regulation loss tonight would eliminate the Sabres from playoff contention. If the Sabres have any hopes of securing a spot in the postseason, a regulation win would be their most favorable result. Giving away points in any other form are basically unacceptable at this point.
“You want to play in these games, especially when you’re trying to develop the kind of mentality that you need in this league,” explained Rolston. “With the close games we’ve been in (the Sabres have played 17 one-goal games under Rolston), you want to test your teams in those situations. Tonight’s another test of a really high caliber opponent in a situation where you need to be successful.”
LISTEN TO ROLSTON'S FULL AUDIO
Ryan Miller will be back between the pipes tonight, one game after locking down a 3-2 shootout win in Boston on Wednesday with 41 saves and stops on all three Bruins’ shootout attempts. In his last 14 games against the Rangers, Miller is 8-2-4 with a 1.71 GAA and .943 save%.
Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will be Buffalo’s only healthy scratch.
- Buffalo comes into tonight’s game on a three-game winning streak, and will be looking to win four straight for the first time since a five-game run from March 19-27, 2012.
- The Sabres have allowed 40 or more shots in two of their last four games, and have averaged 36.1 shots against in the last seven games.
- The Rangers have averaged 33.4 shots for in their last 10 games, including five games of 35 or more shots. Rick Nash leads the Rangers with 158 shots on goal, which is good for fifth in the NHL.