SABRES (19-21-5) at BLACKHAWKS (27-13-6)
TV: NBCSP (HD), TSN2
Last 10: Buffalo 2-6-2; Chicago 4-4-2
Season series: This will be the first and only meeting between Buffalo and Chicago this season. The Blackhawks won both games a year ago by a score of 4-3, but are just 44-52-13-1 in 110 all-time meetings against the Sabres.
Big story: Buffalo is trying to break its current franchise-record nine-game road losing streak and also locked in a funk that seemed to start with a bad loss on Nov. 12 in Boston. Since that game, in which goalie Ryan Miller sustained a concussion from a huge hit outside the crease by Milan Lucic, Buffalo has gone just 9-16-5 and dropped to 11th place in the Eastern Conference. After getting routed 5-0 in Detroit on Monday, the Sabres were seven points out of the East's eighth playoff spot and searching for answers. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, remain locked in a tight battle in both the Central Division and Western Conference standings -- which seem to change turbulently on a nightly basis.
Sabres: Following an ugly 5-0 loss on Monday in Detroit, Buffalo got a post-game visit by owner Terry Pegula and other team execs, who didn’t address the team but probably sent a silent message with their presence. The current level of play is unacceptable for a team that spent big in the offseason and started with the goal of making a Stanley Cup run.
Miller was supposed to lead the way, but he went into a slump shortly before getting the concussion on the Lucic hit, which sidelined him for three weeks and gave him another hurdle to clear. Miller was pulled from Monday's game after allowing five goals in 24:32 -- with the last one set up by Detroit's Drew Miller, his younger brother. The Michigan State alums, from East Lansing, Mich., had family and friends watching at Joe Louis Arena.
"It's embarrassing," Ryan Miller said afterward. "I got family, friends … everybody came to watch Drew and I play and, you know, at least they got to watch Drew perform. I need to be better and I just can't seem to find a night where I can get in a groove."
Blackhawks: No Patrick Sharp, no problem. Well, OK, that's not even close to true for the Blackhawks, who miss the injured Sharp’s 20 goals and 20 assists in their top-six forward mix. However, Chicago is managing his absence thanks to a few so-called "secondary scorers" getting red-hot at the right time. Viktor Stalberg and Dave Bolland both have 5 goals in the past five games, while rookies Andew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes continue to make their presence felt every time they put their skate blades on the ice.
Of course, it also doesn't hurt to have a top line that's centered by star captain Jonathan Toews with talented forward Patrick Kane to his right. Stalberg's on that line as well, and the San Jose Sharks found out firsthand how dominating they can be on Sunday night at the United Center. They hounded the puck, protected it once they got it and then deposited it into the net. Toews and Stalberg both scored and added assists, while Kane set up Toews' goal in the second period.
"I think we've done a good job of just focusing on the things we need to improve on, especially when we maybe have a two or three-game skid, or something like that where we're not playing our best," Toews said. "We finished off a good week and we've got to keep at it, and keep playing the way we have."
Who's hot: Patrick Kaleta has 1 goal and 2 assists in the last three games for the Sabres. … Stalberg has 5 goals in the past four games for the Blackhawks, while Bolland has 5 goals and 2 assists in his last five games -- and the rookie Shaw has scored 4 goals in his first seven NHL games since joining the team on Jan. 3.
Injury report: Tyler Ennis (ankle), Colin Stuart (lower body), Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) and Robyn Regehr (upper body) are all out for the Sabres. … Sharp (upper body) is out for at least the next couple weeks for the Hawks, who also lost Daniel Carcillo (knee surgery) for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee.
Stat pack: Aside from their road losing streak, the Sabres are 8-12-0 on the road overall and have scored a League-low 38 goals in those 20 games away from Buffalo’s HSBC Arena -- a paltry 1.9 average.
"Our road play hasn't been good enough," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "If we want to make a push we're going to have to sharpen up on the road."
Puck drop: Shaw's seven games played the season after he was drafted gives him a couple of impressive notches on his career bio that haven't happened in nine years.
Shaw's 4 goals in his first seven NHL games makes him Chicago's first rookie since 2003 to accomplish that feat. That was also the last year that any NHL rookie drafted in the fifth round or later played more than one game in the League the season after being selected. The Hawks took Shaw in the fifth round of last summer's draft.