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At the Rink: Lightning at Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will turn to rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to try and turn around their slump on the road.

Vasilevskiy will make his fourth start of the season when the Lightning play the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Wednesday. The 20-year-old Russian was recalled by the Lightning on Tuesday from Syracuse of the American Hockey League. Evgeni Nabokov will be the backup and Ben Bishop will be scratched.

"It's a tough stretch down the road, as we know," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "We're lucky to have [Nabokov] with us and we're lucky to have this kid [Vasilevskiy], who's come up and played so very well for us in the three games that he played. It's an easy game for him to come in terms of commute. It's not a long day of travel for him."

Vasilevskiy is 2-1-0 with a .940 save percentage in his three games. He set a Lightning rookie record with 45 saves against the New York Islanders on Dec. 20.

"I don't think much changes," Lightning defenseman Matthew Carle said. "The biggest difference between [Vasilevskiy] and [Bishop] is their ability to play the puck. We just try to keep things simple for him. When he does come out of the net, talk to him early, allow him to make simple plays. But as far as a defensive standpoint it's just something we're focusing on every game no matter who's in goal."

The Lightning have won three straight games, but those all came in Tampa. They're 1-3-2 in the past six road games and have been outscored 15-11.

"At home we’re giving up [fewer] goals and that's where it starts for us," Bowness said. "If you want to win consistently in this League in February, March, and April and in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs you've got to play good defense regardless if you're at home or on the road. … For us, it's important we tighten this up defensively on the road and cut down the goals-against on the road."

While the Lightning have struggled on the road recently, the Sabres have done well at home; they're 7-1-0 in the past eight games at First Niagara Center. The Sabres will have Tyson Strachan back on defense while defenseman Andre Benoit will be scratched. Strachan missed the past five games with a lower-body injury.

"Strachan is a real reliable, dependable guy," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "You know what you get from him. He's not going to go coast-to-coast, he's not going to make that big hit on defense; he's just a reliable, safe defenseman."

Jhonas Enroth will start in goal for the Sabres.

Here are the projected lineups:


Jonathan Drouin - Steven Stamkos - J.T. Brown

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan

Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly

Anton Stralman - Victor Hedman

Matthew Carle - Radko Gudas

Mark Barberio - Andrej Sustr

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Evgeni Nabokov

Scratched: Ben Bishop, Cedric Paquette, Nikita Nesterov

Injured: Jason Garrison (undisclosed)


Matt Moulson - Zemgus Girgensons - Tyler Ennis

Nicolas Deslauriers - Brian Flynn - Drew Stafford

Cody Hodgson - Mikhail Grigorenko - Chris Stewart

Johan Larsson - Cody McCormick - Patrick Kaleta

Mark Pysyk - Josh Gorges

Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Strachan

Mike Weber - Andrej Meszaros

Jhonas Enroth

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Andre Benoit

Injured: Rasmus Ristolainen (flu), Torrey Mitchell (lower body), Brian Gionta (head), Tyler Myers (lower body)

Status Report: Ristolainen skated Wednesday for the first time since he came down with the flu. He last played Dec. 27 against the New York Islanders. … Bowness did not say who among Lightning forwards would be scratched against the Sabres. ... The Lightning recalled Nesterov from Syracuse of the American Hockey League. The Tampa Tribune reported Garrison has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 20.

Who's Hot: Stewart has a five-game point streak, during which he has two goals and three assists. … The Lightning are 15-0-0, 10-0-0 this season, when Ryan Callahan scores a goal.

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