Vanek out, Brennan set to face former team

Thursday, 03.28.2013 / 12:32 PM | Alain Poupart  - NHL.com Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Buffalo Sabres managed three goals and 32 shots in their past two games combined, and now they'll have to face the Florida Panthers on Thursday night without their leading scorer.

Coach Ron Rolston said after the morning skate Thursday that wing Thomas Vanek would miss the game because of an upper-body injury he sustained in Tuesday's 2-1 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While Vanek will sit, struggling forward Drew Stafford will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past two games.

Stafford, one of the team's alternate captains, has four goals and seven assists in 31 games this season after finishing with 31 and 20 goals the past two years.

"He's going to be back in tonight and I expect good things from him, a lot of energy and a lot of effort," Rolston said. "We know the player he can be. We need him the last 15 games here."

Another Sabres player who could be back in the lineup Thursday is defenseman Andrej Sekera, who has missed the past five games with an upper-body injury.

Rolston said Sekera is available to play, although he declined to say definitively Sekera would be in the lineup.

If Sekera does play, the most logical player to be scratched would be Mark Pysyk, who has appeared in five games since being called up from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and has the lowest average ice time among Buffalo defensemen.

Ryan Miller will get the start in net for Buffalo. He'll be going against Jacob Markstrom, who allowed six goals in four starts during the Panthers' just-completed five-game road trip.

After being a healthy scratch in Tuesday's 3-2 loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Panthers defenseman TJ Brennan will be back in the lineup to face his former team for the first time.

Brennan was acquired by Florida from Buffalo on March 15 in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

"It's good," Brennan said. "Obviously you try to take it like any other game, but it'll be a little weird just playing some of the guys I've been around for six or seven years. The guys here made me feel pretty comfortable. It's been a good fit in here."

Brennan said he'll have about a half-dozen family members who live in Florida at BB&T Center for the game because they had bought tickets before the trade to watch him play for the Sabres.

Brennan scored a goal in his first game for the Panthers, a 4-3 loss against the New York Islanders on March 16, and has two points in five games for Florida.

"TJ has been fine," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's got a heavy shot. We're having discussions on the way we play certain situations, but TJ is everything that we expected, that he would come in and be able to fill a role. He's in a situation where we have seven D and we have decisions to make."

With Brennan in the lineup, defenseman Colby Robak is expected to be a healthy scratch for the Panthers.

Here are the projected lines for Thursday night's Sabres-Panthers matchup:

SABRES

Steve Ott - Cody Hodgson - Jason Pominville

Drew Stafford - Tyler Ennis - Ville Leino

Nathan Gerbe - Jochen Hecht - Patrick Kaleta

Marcus Foligno - Kevin Porter - Brian Flynn

Christian Ehrhoff - Mike Weber

Robyn Regehr - Tyler Myers

Jordan Leopold - Andrej Sekera

Scratched: LW John Scott, D Mark Pysyk

Injured: LW Thomas Vanek (upper body), D Alexander Sulzer (lower body)

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky

Jonathan Huberdeau - Shawn Matthias - Peter Mueller

Scottie Upshall - Drew Shore - Mike Santorelli

Quinton Howden - Jerred Smithson - Greg Rallo

Brian Campbell - Tyson Strachan

TJ Brennan - Erik Gudbranson

Filip Kuba - Dmitry Kulikov

Jacob Markstrom

Scott Clemmensen

Scratched: D Colby Robak

Injured: RW Jack Skille (upper body), RW George Parros (upper body), LW Eric Selleck (upper body), D Ed Jovanovski (lower body), RW Kris Versteeg (knee), C Stephen Weiss (wrist), G Jose Theodore (lower body), D Mike Weaver (lower body), D Michael Caruso (upper body), LW Sean Bergenheim (lower body)

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