HEALTHIER SABRES RETURN FROM HOLIDAY BREAK
TORONTO – The Buffalo Sabres played shorthanded in their last game. It looks like they’ll have a full crew ready to go Friday night.
Four players – Ville Leino, Marcus Foligno, Linus Omark and Alexander Sulzer – missed Buffalo’s game on Monday with the flu. Buffalo played the game with 16 skaters and won 2-1 in overtime after the puck fell into goaltender Mike Smith’s pants and he inadvertently backed up across the goal line.
Coming off the three-day holiday break, the team has had some much-needed time to recuperate. All of the sick players were back on the ice for the team’s morning skate at Air Canada Centre as the Sabres prepare for their matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:30 p.m.
Omark, whom the team acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 19, finally got his first practice in with Buffalo.
“It was good to be back on the ice,” he said. “I had a couple days off now and I’ve been sick so I’m excited to play tonight.”
In his Sabres debut against Boston on Saturday, he played 12:57 and was a minus-1. He also committed a penalty early in the game that led to a Bruins power-play goal. Omark said he’s hoping to rebound from that game.
“I have to work hard. When the chances come, you have to take it. I guess [I can] work harder,” he said. “I had a bad start and now I’ve been sick. That’s better, so keep going from there.”
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan will also be looking for a better effort from Omark.
“Not too times you get too many chances. He’s a young guy but he’s got to play with a lot more energy than he did,” Nolan said. “But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt the first time with jet lag and getting to a new team and having the flu, but after this, he’s got to play with a lot more energy.”
Nolan said he’ll likely start Omark on a line with Leino and Foligno.
Ryan Miller is expected to start in goal for Buffalo. He is 31-15-1 all-time against Toronto with a 2.44 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Miller has more wins (31) and shutouts (4) against the Maple Leafs than any other team.
Sulzer and center Cody Hodgson are expected to be scratched. Hodgson, according to Nolan, is still “a ways away” from playing after sustaining an upper-body injury on Dec. 19. He skated on his own at the end of practice.
John Scott is expected to play in his 200th NHL game and he may continue to see an increased role on special teams. With the Sabres short-staffed last game, the coaching staff had him park in front of the net on the power play to try and drum up some chances. Nolan said Scott might be in that spot again against Toronto.
“You look at a lot of power-play goals, it’s a lot of just shooting at the net and creating screens,” Nolan said. “There’s no bigger guy that we have on this team outside of [Tyler] Myers who can make a big screen in front of the goaltender.”
Drew Stafford left the game Monday night midway through the second period after he was called for a high elbow on defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Stafford said he has not heard from the League regarding any sort of hearing. Stafford received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the infraction.
“That was tough. I felt [worse] because of the short bench,” Stafford said. “It was tough enough as it is having the three lines and we were playing a certain kind of game. And then a call like that happens, it was tough. Fortunately, the win trumps it all so that felt good with the boys battling back. That was a gutsy win so that was fun to watch.”
In that win, the Sabres played the game with only three forward lines. They utilized a defensive scheme that Nolan may have borrowed from his other coaching job with the Latvian national team.
“We had nine forwards and we wanted to try and save our legs a bit,” Sabres forward Matt Moulson said. “So that was our version of the Latvian Wall.”
This will be the fourth of five meetings between the Sabres and Maple Leafs this season. The home team has won the last five games played between the two clubs.
Overall, Buffalo is 4-0-1 in their last five home games, but hasn’t picked up on a victory on the road since Nov. 8 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-4 in the shootout. Moulson hopes that’ll change Friday night.
“For some reason, we’ve been playing well at home and not getting as many victories on the road. I think we just have to play that smart game, not turning pucks over, making sure we’re limiting quality chances and continue to work.”
The Sabres had a pretty lively morning skate that at times resembled a more traditional practice. Coming off the break, Stafford said that keeping things “extra simple” and not turning the puck over against Toronto should help them earn two points.
“I think if we do that and worry about how we’re playing, that’ll translate into a good effort. We’ve had good efforts, but we’re looking for a solid game on the road," he said. "Hopefully guys are rested up. We had a good morning skate to get the rust off a little bit and get ready to go.”