-- The Buffalo Sabres
will be practically unrecognizable Tuesday night when they face the Montreal Canadiens
as a perfectly healthy Ryan Miller
will not be in uniform.
After starting each of the last 31 games, Miller will watch from the press box and minor-league call-up Jhonas Enroth
will leapfrog regular backup Patrick Lalime
to grab the start in goal, the first of his young career in Montreal.
"I'm very excited for tonight, it's going to be fun," said Enroth, 22. "Montreal is always Montreal, and hockey's a big thing. Just seeing the arena and practicing in this rink is pretty exciting."
Enroth has played 5 games for the Sabres this season, going 2-2-1 with a 2.89 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage. Lalime, meanwhile, has an 0-5-0 record thus far, which explains head coach Lundy Ruff's reluctance to give him the start in his home province of Quebec.
"He's been down in Portland playing, he's had his up and downs this year, but when called upon here I think he's held himself real well," Ruff said of Enroth. "We look at this as an opportunity to take another look at him. We want him to come in here and help us win a game."
Unlike the last time he was with the Sabres, Enroth will be playing behind a team performing at an extremely high level in spite of a 7-6 overtime loss to the New York Islanders
Ironically enough, the Sabres really turned around what was looking like a lost season as soon as their best player was lost to injury.
suffered a torn quad tendon back on Dec. 23 during a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers
. At the time, the Sabres were 14-17-4 and sitting No. 12 in the Eastern Conference. Losing the team's leading scorer for the season only added to the belief that making the playoffs would be a tall order for the Sabres this season.
Except the team has gone 12-5-2 since Roy's injury to climb back into the playoff picture, entering Tuesday's game just four points behind the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes
with three games in hand.
"We've picked it up since Derek went down," said rookie left wing Tyler Ennis
. "We relied on him a lot in different areas, so when he went down we all realized that if we're going to make it we had to get out of our comfort zone and everyone had to step up to fill his role. Everyone started playing hard and every game we were improving a little bit and getting a little more confident. But it's definitely a tight race right now and we have to keep it going."
The Sabres have a golden opportunity to do just that Tuesday against the Canadiens.
Montreal is already without defenseman Andrei Markov
and Josh Gorges
-- both lost to season-ending knee injuries -- and defenseman Hal Gill
still isn't back from an upper-body injury that will cost him a third game Tuesday. Now veteran Jaroslav Spacek
has been felled by a mystery lower-body injury that prevented him from skating Tuesday morning.
"He's been down in Portland playing, he's had his up and downs this year, but when called upon here I think he's held himself real well. We look at this as an opportunity to take another look at him. We want him to come in here and help us win a game." -- Lindy Ruff
Head coach Jacques Martin called Spacek a game-time decision, and college free-agent signing Brendon Nash
has been called up from the AHL in case Spacek can't play against Buffalo. There's a real possibility the Cornell University alum could make his NHL debut.
should be back in the lineup for the Canadiens after missing two games with a lower-body injury. He will slide onto the Canadiens fourth line with Jeff Halpern
and Tom Pyatt
, while Travis Moen
will move onto a line with Scott Gomez
and Andrei Kostitsyn
. That means rookie Lars Eller
will sit as a healthy scratch.
Darche's injury appears to have cost him his spot on a line with David Desharnais
and Benoit Pouliot
. The two have been dynamite while teamed with gritty rookie Ryan White
the past two games, with Pouliot scoring in each of those games.
Enroth will have the unenviable task of trying to win the goaltending battle against Montreal's Carey Price
, who has a career 8-4-4 record with a 2.02 GAA and .936 save percentage against the Sabres.