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Sabres get Gionta back, try to end skid vs. Flames

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com

SABRES (14-30-3) at FLAMES (25-19-3)

TV: MSG-B, BELL TV, SNW

CALGARY -- The Buffalo Sabres are hoping the All-Star break can take the sting out of an 11-game losing streak and help right the ship in the process.

"Sometimes when you're in the storm you don't see where you're heading," said coach Ted Nolan, whose Sabres take on the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday.

"When you step back a little bit and refocus and re-energize yourself, you see what the ultimate goal is. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks. They didn't become the Chicago Blackhawks overnight. They had a lot of miserable years to get where they are. Pittsburgh did the same thing. We're going through that rebuild phase.

"We're going to hit some nasty storms, but if you have someone up on that flagpole saying, 'Hey, this is the direction we're going and we have to stay the course.'"

That someone could be Buffalo captain Brian Gionta.

The 36-year-old forward is returning after missing 13 games with an upper-body injury.

The losing streak, which has the Sabres still seeking their first points in 2015 and serves as the longest since the Pittsburgh Penguins struggled through 13 straight losses without collecting a point in 2003-04, has made it difficult for Gionta to be idle.

"It's tough. You want to be a part of it," said Gionta, who has seen Buffalo go 1-12-0 in his absence. "When the team is struggling you take a lot on your own. You want to be higher in the standings, but at the same time we still have close to half a season to try to get our game in order and get some renewed life in this room.

"Some guys are coming back renewed with some more energy. Sometimes getting away from it when things are struggling is the best thing. Hopefully we can use this to our advantage."

Nolan said he is hoping the return of Gionta can help smooth out the Sabres too.

"When he was out we certainly missed that mentor in the room; that calming factor that we need," Nolan said. "He's been through a lot in his career. He knows how to handle situations, so when he's out of that room we're missing part of that. It's great to have that back.

"His presence is very valuable. I don't know what kind of analytics we can do for that, but the personal touch and what he adds to it, you can't measure it on statistics, but we sure measure it on presence and what he means as far as leadership and getting the rest of the team confident and focused on their jobs."

Nolan, Gionta and the Sabres will face a focused opponent in the Flames.

Heading into the second half of the season, Calgary finds itself holding down the second of two wild-card spots in the Western Conference.

"I told the players this morning, for too many years, after the All-Star break, we basically knew it would be impossible to be a playoff team," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "Starting tonight, I feel that a new season is starting for us.

"We're in the picture. It's up to us. We control our own destiny."

That message has trickled down to the players, who will skate on home ice in 10 of their next 12 games starting with the Sabres.

"We have to get some momentum going here at home, for sure, and it starts tonight," Calgary captain Mark Giordano said. "I find that in these long homestands if you get the first win it goes a long way. We'll try to get this one tonight and go from there. When we look back at the end of the year it's probably going be one of the big factors if we get in or not.

"We haven't been in this spot in a while. I think we're in a good spot, in that second wild-card spot; if we can pile up some points on this homestand we can really give ourselves a great chance down the stretch."

Here are the projected lineups:

SABRES

Matt Moulson - Zemgus Girgensons - Tyler Ennis

Brian Flynn - Torrey Mitchell - Brian Gionta

Drew Stafford - Cody Hodgson - Chris Stewart

Nicolas Deslauriers - Matt Ellis - Patrick Kaleta

Josh Gorges - Tyler Myers

Andre Benoit - Tyson Strachan

Mike Weber - Rasmus Ristolainen

Jhonas Enroth

Matt Hackett

Scratched: Nikita Zadorov, Andrej Meszaros

Injured: Michal Neuvirth (lower body), Cody McCormick (blood clot in leg), Marcus Foligno (hand)

FLAMES

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Jiri Hudler

Mason Raymond - Josh Jooris - Joe Colborne

Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - David Jones

Brandon Bollig - Matt Stajan - Paul Byron

Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie

Kris Russell - Dennis Wideman

Raphael Diaz - Deryk Engelland

Jonas Hiller

Karri Ramo

Scratched: Sven Baertschi, David Wolf, Tyler Wotherspoon

Injured: Sam Bennett (shoulder surgery), Curtis Glencross (lower body), Ladislav Smid (upper body)

Status update: Nolan hadn't determined which of Weber, Ristolainen, and Meszaros would sit on defense. He said he expects Zadorov, who was suspended after failing to report to the team on time following the All-Star break, could join the team in Calgary or Edmonton. … Hudler will be a game-time decision for the Flames because of illness. Hartley wasn't sure whether Wolf or Baertschi would step into the lineup should Hudler be absent.

Who's hot: Ennis, who leads the Sabres with 28 points, has three goals and four points in his past three games. … Monahan has goals in four straight games for Calgary.

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