The Buffalo Sabres will face the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, and by any measure, the Lightning (2-3-3) will be up against a hot team. Buffalo (5-1-0) has sprinted out to the lead in the Northeast Division and, coming off a shutout win against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday are undefeated on the road this season with four wins.
But hot or not, the sight of the Sabres arriving has rarely been a welcome one to the Lightning. The last time that Tampa Bay posted a winning record for the season against the Sabres was the season they won the Stanley Cup, 2003-04, when the Lightning went 3-0-0-1 against them.
Since then, Tampa Bay has compiled a 5-15-4 mark, though the teams did split the four meetings last season.
For Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, the reason for the Buffalo domination of the Lightning is a mystery.
"That's tough to figure," Ruff said. "We've been on the opposite side of that with some teams like Pittsburgh. When you look at it, we've won games here lots of different ways."
Almost all of those winning ways have included goals by Sabres forward Thomas Vanek, who has acquired a reputation as a Lightning killer with 22 goals in 24 games against Tampa Bay. Vanek, who has recorded points in all six of Buffalo's games, has no explanation for his success against the Lightning.
"It's just a coincidence," Vanek said. "I've gotten the chances and the puck has gone in."
Buffalo's success against his team was less a mystery to Lightning coach Guy Boucher.
"They are a very well-coached team," Boucher said. "A lot of set plays are working for them. Teams that react faster than their opponents find success and that's what they have, they react very fast. They have smaller forwards and they are very evasive and that creates a lot of problems for slower defensemen."
The Lightning, coming off a 4-1 win against the Islanders on Thursday that snapped a five-game losing streak, are counting on duplicating that effort tonight.
"We know it's going to be a challenge," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. "If we play like we did last game we'll give ourselves a chance to compete and that's the game plan today."
Coming off the win Thursday night, Mathieu Garon will get his second consecutive start in net for the Lightning against Ryan Miller for Buffalo.
Here's the projected lineup for both teams:
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Steve Downie
Ryan Malone - Vincent Lecavalier - Teddy Purcell
Tom Pyatt - Dominic Moore - Brett Connolly
Blair Jones - Nate Thompson - Adam Hall
Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Brett Clark - Pavel Kubina
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Matt Gilroy
Thomas Vanek - Luke Adam - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
Cody McCormick - Ville Leino - Brad Boyes
Nathan Gerbe - Paul Gaustad - Patrick Kaleta
Robyn Regehr - Tyler Myers
Jordan Leopold - Christian Ehrhoff
Andrej Sekera - Marc-Andre Gragnani