SABRES (16-18-5) at SHARKS (21-14-5)
TV -- MSG-B (HD); CSN-California (HD)
Last 10 -- Buffalo 4-5-1, San Jose 6-4-0
Season series -- It's the second and final meeting between the interconference rivals. The Sabres won 6-3 at HSBC Arena on Dec. 9 in a game that wasn't quite the romp the scoreboard indicated. The Sabres were clinging to a 4-3 lead until Paul Gaustad's empty-netter and Thomas Vanek's tally in the final minute.
Big story -- The Sabres were about to get a good run going, winning two in a row before a bizarre 4-3 overtime setback in Colorado, while the Sharks continue to surprise by not steamrolling the Western Conference as in years past. They're fourth in the West, a respectable position by any measure, except when you consider 13th-place Columbus is only four points back. By contrast, the Sabres are eight points behind eighth-place Montreal.
Sabres -- Like most athletes, hockey players can be superstitious about equipment. If Tyler Ennis wasn't before, he might be now, as his stick caused a heap of trouble for the Sabres at Pepsi Center Tuesday night. It just happened to be in the wrong place twice -- once when it accidentally got in the way as the puck was about to cross the Colorado goal line late in the third period, and again when it flipped up to catch Ryan Wilson in the face during OT. The resulting power play gave the Avs a chance to seal the deal -- and David Jones did.
"I don't know how we have the whole net and it just somehow hits my stick that's sitting there," said Ennis to the Buffalo News. "For whatever reason it hit my stick and doesn't go in. That's just disappointing for that to happen. I don't know what the chances are of that."
Sharks -- The well-documented inconsistency can be frustrating. Five shutouts and four blown third-period leads on a team not used to such things will grate on some. Alternate captain Ryane Clowe is one of them. After losing 4-3 to the red-hot Canucks on Monday, he went public with his feelings.
"When you play an 82-game season, there's always going to be nights where you just don't feel good," he said Tuesday in the San Jose Mercury News. "But are you going to give yourself permission as an individual to take the night off or are you going to find another way to help the team? I don't have an 'A' game every night, but I at least try to find something in my 'B' game that brings something to the table."
His teammates had his back, and so did his coach. "I think it's great he feels that way and speaks his mind openly," Todd McLellan said to the Mercury News.
However, McLellan countered by noting that the team is 6-3 in its last nine games and had turned in solid performances in a 5-3 win at Chicago last Thursday and a 1-0 payback shutout of the Kings on Saturday.
Who's hot -- Clowe might be a little hot under the collar, but he also has four points in his last four games -- as does defenseman Dan Boyle. He also leads the team at plus-8 along with Logan Couture. … Buffalo's Jason Pominville is on one of the biggest tears of his career with 15 points in 14 games. Vanek has goals in two straight games after pulling an oh-fer in his previous eight. Drew Stafford has had two multi-point games in a row and has 8 goals and 2 assists in the nine games since he returned Dec. 15 from a shoulder injury.
Injury report -- Patrick Kaleta (upper body) has been out since Dec. 28 and is expected back in "a short period of time" according to coach Lindy Ruff. … Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell (upper body) was present at Sunday's practice and Monday's morning skate but remains day-to-day, as is Joe Pavelski (lower body), who has resumed skating. Forward John McCarthy (upper body) has been out since Dec. 13 with no timetable for a return.
Stat pack -- Ruff plans on taking advantage of a stretch in the schedule that has the Sabres playing only one back-to-back the entire month of January. To offset Derek Roy's season-ending quad injury, he will roll three lines as much as possible. The result is that five forwards played more than 20 minutes in Buffalo's 7-6 shootout win over the Bruins on Saturday night. … Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has 8 points over his last 13 games after starting the season without a point in San Jose's first 27 games.
Puck drop -- "Everybody from the team, to the fans to the media wants a Picasso every night. Well, it isn't going to be a Picasso every night. We have to learn to win more of those 1-0 games like we did against Los Angeles." -- McLellan in the Mercury News responding to Clowe's complaints about the Sharks' inconsistent effort.