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.
BOSTON -- Ryan Miller will be back in goal tonight in Boston as the Sabres look to extend their winning streak to three games in what should be an emotionally-charged TD Garden. Tonight’s game will be the first professional sporting event in Boston following Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon that left three people dead and more than 170 others injured.
Miller’s last game was a 5-1 loss to Montreal last Thursday, before giving way to Jhonas Enroth for Buffalo’s consecutive weekend wins over Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Miller has played in all four games against Boston this season, posting a 2-2-0 record, 2.53 GAA and .930 save%.
Luke Adam was returned to Rochester today, after scoring one goal during a four-game recall. The Sabres have just one extra skater, and recently-recalled rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will be the team’s only healthy scratch tonight. Ville Leino (upper body injury) is out indefinitely and did not travel with the team to Boston.
Patrick Kaleta will play in his 300th career NHL game tonight, becoming the 67th Sabres player in franchise history sto reach this milestone. The 26-year-old native of Angola, NY, played his first game in Buffalo on February 22, 2007, against the Ottawa Senators. Kaleta has 51 points (27+24) and 501 penalty minutes in his previous 299 games.
This is the fifth and final meeting between the Sabres and Bruins this season, with the teams splitting the previous four games. In the only game at Boston’s TD Garden on January 31, Thomas Vanek collected five points (3+2) as the Sabres came-from-behind to defeat the Bruins 7-4. Vanek’s five points are tied with Boston’s David Krejci (2+3) to lead both teams this season.
To say that Tyler Ennis has struggled lately is being polite. The 23-year-old center has gone five games without collecting a point, and was on the ice for all four goals in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss in Winnipeg. Ennis is a cumulative minus-seven over the past five games, and has recorded just eight shots on goal during this stretch.
Ennis is third in team scoring with nine goals and 17 assists in 39 games, but interim head coach Ron Rolston says the youngster will needs to use his speed for more than just generating offense when the Sabres host Montreal tonight at First Niagara Center.
“Obviously he’s a huge part of our team. He’s just gotta make things happen out there; he’s gotta get his feet moving more than anything. When he’s playing well he’s moving his feet – he’s fast, he’s on pucks. That’s what he’s got to get back to.
“It’s everywhere, getting to loose pucks, even in our zone. Putting himself in position to play defensively and winning his battles. Just making things happen out there, being proactive on things. It all starts with him moving his feet.”
Buffalo comes into tonight’s game with a 3-1-0 record against the Canadiens this season, and they have won three straight against Montreal since being trounced 6-1 at the Bell Centre on February 2.
The Sabres are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Canadiens, including a 6-2-2 record at home. Buffalo is 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Montreal, with the Canadiens’ last regulation win in Buffalo being a 3-2 victory on November 5, 2010.
Thomas Vanek leads both teams with five goals on 16 shots during the four-game season series. Vanek scored both of Buffalo’s goals in their last meeting, a 2-1 Sabres’ win at the Bell Centre on March 23.
WINNIPEG -- Interim head coach Ron Rolston classified Thomas Vanek as a “possibility” for tonight’s game in Winnipeg, as the Buffalo Sabres (16-17-6) put their three-game winning streak on the line against the equally-desperate Jets (19-19-2). Buffalo’s leading scorer has missed the last six games with an upper body injury sustained in Tampa on March 26.
The injured Buffalo winger showed no visible signs of discomfort during drills at today’s morning skate at the MTS Centre, but stayed on the ice longer than most of his teammates. When Vanek came off the ice, he would only smile when asked by reporters if he’ll be back in the lineup tonight.
Buffalo enters tonight’s game on their third three-game winning streak of the season, and will attempt to win four straight for the first time since they won five in a row from March 19-27, 2012.
Ryan Miller will make his fifth straight start in goal for Buffalo; posting a record of 3-1-0 in the previous four games. In Miller’s last start, he stole two points for the Sabres by making 37 saves and stopping all three Devils’ shooters in a 3-2 shootout win over New Jersey on Sunday.
Winnipeg comes into the game having lost five of its last six games, after snapping a five-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over Philadelphia on Saturday. The Jets are just 9-9-0 at home this season in the raucous MTS Centre, after posting a 23-13-5 home record last season.
It’s been a while since the Sabres have won a regular season game in Winnipeg; 20 years in fact. The Sabres were 0-2-0 in their two visits to Winnipeg last season as the Jets returned to the NHL after relocating from Atlanta.
Buffalo’s last win in the province of Manitoba was a 6-2 decision on February 10, 1993. Pat LaFontaine was involved in every Buffalo goal that night, collecting one goal and five assists. In the middle of his record-setting 76-goal season, Alexander Mogilny scored four times and added an assist. Grant Fuhr defeated Bob Essensa to earn the win in net. Sabres assistant coach Teppo Numminen was playing for the Jets at the time, but missed this game due to injury.
Buffalo only played two more games in Winnipeg before they relocated to Phoenix in 1996.
To take this stat one step further, when the Sabres last won in Winnipeg, Jochen Hecht was the oldest current player at 15 years old; Ryan Miller was only 12; and rookie defenseman Mark Pysyk had just celebrated his first birthday one month earlier.
Thomas Vanek will miss his fifth straight game with an upper body injury tonight when the Sabres (14-17-6) host the Ottawa Senators (19-11-6) at First Niagara Center in a 7 p.m. start.
Buffalo’s leading scorer skated for the third day in a row and continues to improve, but he’s still not ready to get back into a game for the first time since February 26 in Tampa.
Ryan Miller gets the start in goal tonight, coming off an impressive performance in Buffalo’s 4-1 streak-stopping win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
The trade of Jason Pominville to Minnesota not only left the Sabres without a captain, but it also opened up a hole on the right side of Buffalo’s first line. The first player to get a crack alongside Steve Ott and Cody Hodgson will be Nathan Gerbe.
The feisty winger will be elevated from the third line to the first unit tonight, and knows this is his shot to prove himself with the team’s top offensive center in Hodgson.
“It’s a good opportunity for me. I’m just gonna come in and try to take advantage of it, play hard and try to compete. Hopefully good things happen,” Gerbe said today. “I’m kind of the guy that can move around everywhere in the lineup. This is a good chance for me.”
Gerbe has seven points (4+3) in 31 games this season, and has bounced all over the depth chart. While the constant shuffling might bother some players, Gerbe says he’s become accustomed to it.
“I’m getting used to it for sure. I think towards the beginning it was a little difficult; new guy every game or new position. Now I’m getting the hang of right wing and it’s becoming more natural for me to play on that side and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable.”
Interim head coach Ron Rolston says there’s value in a player like Gerbe who can fill a variety of roles on a hockey club.
“He’s pretty versatile so that’s probably a good thing. He’s played left wing and right wing, and some of his best offensive games have been on the right side,” said Rolston. “He’s one of those guys that brings you the same thing every night. He’s got good speed and he competes. Again, you can put him anywhere and he’ll be that same player. That’s what gives him value for us.”
PITTSBURGH -- Thomas Vanek’s upper body muscle strain continues to bother him, and he’ll be out of the lineup again tonight when the Sabres visit the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. The Penguins come into the game riding an NHL season-high 15-game winning streak, along with a franchise-record 12 straight home wins.
Vanek took part in today’s morning skate, but could be seen noticeably wincing on several occasions when shooting the puck. This will be the fourth straight game Vanek has missed since suffering the injury in Tampa on March 26.
As expected, Ville Leino did not skate today as he is also battling an upper body injury. Sabres GM Darcy Regier said last night during a conference call with the media that Leino would be unavailable for at least the next few days.
Luke Adam was recalled from Rochester on Monday night, and he’ll be in the Buffalo lineup tonight for the first time this season. In 64 games with the Amerks, Adam has 14 goals and 18 assists.
With the trade of Robyn Regehr to Los Angeles last night leaving Buffalo with just five defensemen, Adam Pardy was also recalled from Rochester today. This will be Pardy’s third stint with the Sabres, having collected one assist in five previous games.
Ryan Miller gets the call in goal for Buffalo tonight, and will become the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by a goaltender with 492. Miller is 5-11-3 in his career against the Penguins, and he took the loss in their only meeting this season – a 4-3 Pittsburgh victory at First Niagara Center on February 17.
The Buffalo Sabres will be minus leading scorer Thomas Vanek again tonight when they host the Washington Capitals at First Niagara Center.
Vanek did take to the ice at today’s optional morning skate, but he’s still being hampered by the upper body muscle strain that also kept him out of Thursday’s shootout loss in Florida.
“He was out there today and moving, but it’s just not where he needs to be,” said interim head coach Ron Rolston. “I would say it’s possible for tomorrow.”
Jhonas Enroth will get the call in goal for Buffalo, and comes into the game riding a two-game winning streak. In his two career starts against the Capitals, Enroth has a 1-0-1 record, with a 2.93 GAA and .903 save%.
Brian Flynn is expected to return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Florida on Thursday. The rookie winger had two goals in his first five games after being recalled from Rochester on March 1, but had just one goal and two assists in the next seven games. Rolston thinks the one-game rest could be exactly what was needed for Flynn.
“I just think his energy more than anything lately was a little down. It’s just building that back up and being ready here for the last push.”
SUNRISE, FLA. – Thomas Vanek will miss tonight’s game with an upper body injury, and winger Drew Stafford will be back in the lineup when the Sabres close out their two-game Florida swing with a 7:30 p.m. start at the BB&T Center against the Panthers.
Vanek didn’t skate for the second day in a row after he was forced to leave Tuesday’s game in Tampa following just one shift at the start of the third period. Interim head coach Ron Rolston said Wednesday that Vanek is suffering from an upper body muscle strain, but didn’t say if it was related to the injury that held him out of the Toronto game one week ago tonight.
Stafford will skate on a line with Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino, after being a healthy scratch for the last two games. Based on the brief line work done at the morning skate, rookie Brian Flynn appears to be in line as tonight’s healthy scratched forward. Today’s lines were:
Rolston wouldn’t confirm if defenseman Andrej Sekera would return tonight, although he did say Sekera is available after missing the last five games with an upper body injury.
Ryan Miller will get his fourth straight start in goal for the Sabres, and his third this season against the Panthers. Miller has a record 1-1-0 versus Florida this season, with a 3.38 GAA and .908 save%. Florida will start 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom, who is 3-7-1 with 2.59 GAA and .921 save% in 11 games this season.
TAMPA – Since it ain’t broke right now, Ron Rolston sees no need to fix the Sabres lineup. Buffalo will employ the same roster as Saturday when they look for their fourth straight win tonight in Tampa (7:30 p.m., MSG).
Drew Stafford will be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game along with John Scott, and defenseman Andrej Sekera will miss his fifth straight game with an upper body injury. Rolston said that Sekera is “real close” to returning, but wouldn’t confirm if he’d be ready for Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
Sekera’s absence will give rookie Mark Pysyk another chance to play (paired with Jordan Leopold), and Rolston said he’s been impressed with how his defensemen have performed as a group in recent games.
“We’re happy with the way our guys played in Montreal, especially our ‘D’ corps has been building some chemistry, so we like where they’re at. We’re gonna stick with that same corps tonight.”
Ryan Miller gets the start in goal for the Sabres tonight. In his career, Miller is 19-7-0 against the Lightning, with a 2.68 GAA and .908 save%.
The Lightning are expected to counter with Mathieu Garon, who has only posted three wins in 13 games this season – with all three wins coming against the Carolina Hurricanes. Garon is 4-8-0 all-time against Buffalo with 2.82 and .901 save%. Garon’s last shutout was a 3-0 blanking of the Sabres in Tampa on October 22, 2011.