The Colorado Avalanche returns home on Saturday night, hosting the Buffalo Sabres at Pepsi Center. It's the second and final meeting between the two teams, coming just nine days after the first matchup in Buffalo on Feb. 16.
The Avs are 15-9-4 all-time against the Sabres, and while they've lost the last two in the series, the Colorado club has won 10 of the last 12 matchups, including the last five meetings at home. The Avalanche topped Buffalo 2-1 on Jan. 20, 2016, in their last contest at Pepsi Center. Colorado hasn't lost to the Sabres at home since Dec. 4, 2005.
Last Time Out
The Avalanche dropped a 4-2 decision to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in the last game of the season series between the Central Division foes. Jarome Iginla and Patrick Wiercioch scored for Colorado, but the Avs couldn't contain Filip Forsberg, who finished with a hat trick. Jeremy Smith stopped 25 shots.
Buffalo enters Saturday night's game coming off its mandatory five-day bye week. The Sabres last played on Feb. 19, falling to the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1. After trailing 1-0, Buffalo evened the score at one with seconds remaining in the opening period. Chicago then peppered Robin Lehner with 37 shots and scored two goals each in the second or third period to take the win.
Last Time They Met
The Sabres won the first matchup of the season series 2-0 in Buffalo on Feb. 16. Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane were the goal scorers for the Sabres, who outshot the Avs 32-23 and scored on one of their three power-play opportunities. Calvin Pickard was in net for Colorado and finished with 30 saves while Lehner stopped all 23 he faced. Colorado won the faceoff battle 57-43 percent, including a 74 percent success rate from Matt Duchene.
Video: Previewing the Avalanche's game vs. the Sabres
What to Watch
Avs Get Bourque and Johnson Back
Defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Rene Bourque are each expected to return to the lineup on Saturday. Johnson has missed 36 games since suffering a fractured leg on Dec. 3 against Dallas, and Bourque has missed 11 after taking a hit that kept him out of the remainder of Colorado's Feb. 1 game against the Los Angeles Kings. Bourque has registered 13 points in 43 games this season, and his nine goals are fifth on the team.
While Johnson's return to the lineup is an especially welcome development after the Avalanche lost Nikita Zadorov to a season-ending ankle injury on Monday, he'll have to gradually work back up to carrying the 22 minute-per-game workload he was handling prior to the injury.
"I think the reality is he's been out for months, so we'll ease him back into it a little bit. And he'll determine that by how he's feeling, what kind of game shape he's in. He's been working real hard off the ice. He always keeps himself in good condition, but playing in games and having guys lean on you constantly is a different animal," said head coach Jared Bednar following Friday's on-ice session at Family Sports Center. "He's been through a handful of practices now, and he's been skating for quite some time and working hard. So we'll probably start him out just 5-on-5 minutes in the regular rotation and see how all that goes and just keep evaluating him and ramp him up eventually back to where he was."
Buffalo Power Play
The Sabres have been one of the league's best teams with the man advantage this season, converting on 22.5 percent of their power-play opportunities. While their power play ranks third overall in the NHL, the numbers dip slightly on the road, where Buffalo has been successful on 20.2 percent of its power plays, good for 11th in the league.
Man-advantage scoring has been fairly balanced for the Sabres, who have gotten a team-high nine power-play tallies from Matt Moulson and 20 power-play points apiece from Rasmus Ristolainen and Kyle Okposo.
Player to Watch
Colorado: Defenseman Erik Johnson
Despite having only played 23 games this season, Johnson's 62 blocked shots still ranks fourth on the team, and his 2.7 blocked shots per game is tops on the Avalanche and tied for third league-wide.
"It's been three months, I think to the day tomorrow, so it's been a long time coming, and I'm really excited especially to come back at home in front of our fans and try to get a win for them at home," Johnson said following Friday's practice.
Buffalo: Left wing Evander Kane
Buffalo's leading goal scorer has scored all of his 21 tallies of the 2016-17 campaign in his last 36 games, including a team-high 20 even-strength goals. Kane has seven goals and nine points in 13 career games against the Avalanche. Of those seven tallies, three have come in a Sabres uniform.
Calvin Pickard will get the nod in net, making his fourth career start against the Sabres but the first one at home. Pickard is 1-2-0 against the Sabres.
After Friday afternoon's practice, Bednar noted that the coaching staff was still in the process of making some lineup decisions for Saturday, which included who Johnson would be paired with. Bourque will likely slot in on Colorado's fourth line alongside two of Andreas Martinsen, Mikhail Grigorenko and Carl Soderberg.
The puck drop for Saturday night's game between the Avalanche and the Sabres is 8 p.m. MT and can be watched live on Altitude TV. Radio listeners can tune into Altitude Sports Radio AM950 or listen online at ColoradoAvalanche.com.