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Sabres hit the road to face resurgent Blue Jackets

by Frank Mentesana
SABRES (12-8-1) at BLUE JACKETS (5-13-3)


Last 10:
Buffalo 6-3-1; Columbus 4-4-2

Season series: Friday's contest is the second of two meetings between these clubs, who first met on Oct. 27 in Buffalo. The Sabres doubled up the Blue Jackets 4-2 that night, as Jhonas Enroth put forth a stellar, 41-save effort and Jason Pominville scored twice. 

Big Story: Despite still having the fewest points in the League with 13, the Blue Jackets have been playing competitive hockey as of late and can win three out of four for the first time this season if they claim a victory over Buffalo. They were denied their first three-game winning streak of the 2011-12 campaign on Wednesday, falling to the Devils in a shootout, 2-1. 

Meanwhile, the Sabres look to fight through a rough patch where several of their stars are injured, including No. 1 goaltender Ryan Miller. In addition to Miller, the Sabres will be without Tyler Myers for the next 4-6 weeks after he had surgery on a broken wrist on Monday.

Team Scope:

Sabres: Buffalo had revenge on its mind Wednesday, when the Sabres took on the Bruins for the first time since Milan Lucic sent Miller to the sidelines with a concussion 11 days earlier. But even with that extra motivation, the Sabres could not cool off the hottest team in the League, as Boston claimed its 10th straight win with a 4-3 shootout victory. Buffalo fell to 5-6-1 at home after squandering leads of 2-0 and 3-1 and failing to connect once in the five-round shootout.

After some criticism that Buffalo didn't do enough to stick up for Miller when he was bowled over in Boston, Paul Gaustad dropped the gloves with Lucic merely 83 seconds into the game. There was also a scrum involving all 10 skaters on the ice midway through the first period, highlighted by a scrap between Boston captain Zdeno Chara and Buffalo defenseman Robyn Regehr. Overall, there were 36 penalty minutes in the first period.

"It was an unfortunate incident in Boston. I give credit to Milan for fighting. It's something guys don't have to, but he did," Gaustad said. "And it was something that, myself, I wanted to step up after I thought I could've done more in the Boston game. We've moved on from that point in Boston, and I think we've become a better team because of it."

Enroth made 36 saves and took his first career loss in six shootouts, dropping him to 7-2-1 on the season.

Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets fell to 0-3 in shootouts this season with their defeat in New Jersey -- which came largely at the hands of Martin Brodeur. The future Hall-of-Famer was in top form, stopping 35 shots -- including 16 in the third period alone -- and denying Rick Nash and Mark Letestu in the shootout. Jared Boll scored his first of the season, but Brodeur stole one for the Devils, who were outplayed by Columbus in the late stages.

"No disrespect to [Devils coach] Pete [DeBoer] and his team but we gave up one scoring chance in the third period and had six or seven," coach Scott Arniel said. "Some (Marty) saw and some he didn't see, but he's been in this League a long time and he made some big stops. You could see his veteran presence."

With Steve Mason still out with a head injury, backup goalie Curtis Sanford made his fourth straight start (and fourth start of the season overall), turning away 23 shots in defeat. He has yet to lose in regulation, allowing one regulation goal in all but one of his starts. 

Who's Hot: Sanford has gone 2-0-2 with a 1.33 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in five outings this season. Columbus forward Vinny Prospal has points in three straight games, notching 1 goal and 4 assists in that span. … For the Sabres, Thomas Vanek (4-5-9) and Jason Pominville (3-6-9) both have points in seven of their last eight. 

Injury Report: Buffalo features a host of sidelined players. The most recent Sabre to go down was Brad Boyes, who appeared to suffer an ankle injury early in the second period of Wednesday’s defeat. Coach Lindy Ruff said after the game that he expects Boyes to miss a "period of time." Patrick Kaleta was a late scratch in the game against Boston with a lower-body injury and is day-to-day. Miller, Ennis and Mike Weber (upper body) are all still out indefinitely and Cody McCormick (upper body) is day-to-day. The Sabres did get one man back recently, as forward Jochen Hecht made his season debut Wednesday against Boston. … For Columbus, forward Kristian Huselius (torn pectoral muscle) and defenseman Radek Martinek remain on injured reserve, while Mason hasn’t played since Nov. 15 and is day-to-day.

Stat Pack: The Sabres are fourth in the League on the penalty kill, thwarting 88.3 percent of opponents' power-play chances. … While in the bottom of most rankings, a bright note for Columbus is that it has allowed the fifth-fewest shots-per-game in the League at 28.3.

Puck Drop:
Despite Buffalo's loss on Wednesday, it was a memorable night for T.J. Brennan, who scored his first NHL goal playing in his first NHL game. Brennan is the first Sabres defenseman to score in his NHL debut since Ruff did it on Oct. 11, 1979 against Washington, according to Buffalo's official website.

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