WILD (2-1-2) at SABRES (0-5-1)
TV: NBCSN; TSN2
Season series: This is the first meeting of the season between the Minnesota Wild and the Buffalo Sabres. The last time they met, the Sabres came away with a 3-1 victory at First Niagara Center on March 24, 2012.
Big story: After playing parts of nine seasons with the Sabres to start his career, Wild forward Jason Pominville will be returning to First Niagara Center as a visiting player for the first time to face a Buffalo team still searching for its first win of 2013-14.
Wild: For the first 578 games of his NHL career, Pominville wore a Sabres sweater; he scored 185 goals and 271 assists. That all changed late last season, when Pominville was sent to Minnesota to accelerate Buffalo's rebuild, and after signing a five-year $28-million contract extension this summer, he'll be calling Minnesota home for a while. This will be his first game back in Buffalo as a visiting player, and while many expect him to get a warm reception from the crowd, it could still be a strange experience for Pominville.
"It was kind of 'Bang-bang, you're out of here,'" Pominville told the media when asked about being traded. "I didn't even go down to the arena to get my gear; our trainer, we met somewhere and he brought it to me. I was always treated real well [in Buffalo], so it'll be nice to see everyone again."
Beyond Pominville's return, the game is a pivotal one for the Wild. Minnesota is starting a four-game road trip, and after dropping three straight to start the season the Wild have rebounded to win two in a row. With a visit to Toronto on Tuesday looming, however, Minnesota will be hard-pressed to keep winning before facing the Atlantic-leading Maple Leafs on the second end of a back-to-back.
Sabres: The trade of Pominville was a strong indication that the Sabres were in rebuilding mode for the 2013-14 season, but even with lowered expectations in the standings, Buffalo is off to a slow start. The Sabres are winless in six games and have only one point (an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 8). They are alone in the Eastern Conference basement.
"We've had a handful of games so far where it's been all different situations or ways to put ourselves in a bad situation," goalie Ryan Miller said following the team's 2-1 road loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. "Tonight it was the penalties. It just left the first period as us having to defend, run around and waste energy."
Things won't get easier for Buffalo any time soon. After hosting Minnesota, the Sabres visit the New York Islanders on Tuesday before returning to First Niagara Center to host the Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins.
Who's hot: Minnesota's Zach Parise is looking like he could be among the League's top goal scorers this season with four goals in five games. … Despite Buffalo's struggles, Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek have each had solid starts to the season with five points and four points, respectively, in six games.
Injury report: Starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom (lower body) has missed two games for Minnesota and is questionable for Monday. Forward Charlie Coyle (knee sprain) is out for 2-3 more weeks. … Nikita Zadorov (hand) is questionable for Buffalo, while the Sabres will be without Ville Leino (rib) and Henrik Tallinder (upper body).