VANCOUVER – Buffalo Sabres goalie Nathan Lieuwen will make his second NHL start Sunday night in front of family and friends against the Vancouver Canucks team he grew up cheering.
Lieuwen gets the start after Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who was hoping to return Sunday, had a setback in his recovery from a lower-body injury and wasn't able to practice Saturday.
With No. 1 goaltender Jhonas Enroth not on the road trip because of a lower-body injury, coach Ted Nolan said he wanted to give Lieuwen a start close to home. Nolan said Ontario native Matt Hackett, who made 35 saves in a 3-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers to snap the Sabres seven-game losing skid on Thursday, will start when Buffalo goes back east to play the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.
Lieuwen, who was called up March 16, appreciated the gesture.
In addition to expecting a big crowd to make the one-hour drive west from his hometown of Abbotsford, Lieuwen will be facing at least one more of the Canucks he used to root for.
Daniel Sedin returns to Vancouver's No. 1 line after missing nine games with a hamstring injury, and second-line center Ryan Kesler is a game-day decision after missing four with a knee sprain.
Lieuwen, a 22-year-old in his second professional season, will try not to pay attention to any of the familiar names shooting on him.
"I'll probably do my best to not look at the back of the jerseys," Lieuwen said. "You just have to kind of block it out. There's obviously a lot of emotions and a lot of extra stuff that could really creep into my head, but I just have to stay focused on my process and what I have to do on the ice and if I focus on that I will be fine."
Other than starting Lieuwen, the only change Nolan plans for his injury-depleted lineup is to drop rookie forward Nicolas Deslauriers to the fourth line and move Matt Ellis up to the third in his place. That means Ville Leino will be scratched a second straight game.
As for Neuvirth, who was injured while making 51 saves in a 4-2 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 13, Nolan said he suffered a couple of setbacks after taking part in practices this week.
"He was feeling really good, goes on the ice and doesn't feel very well, felt good [again], put him back on the ice and same thing," Nolan said. "So we'll keep him off until he feels maybe over 100 percent."
At least Lieuwen won't have to worry about Alexandre Burrows, who won't play and is listed as day-to-day after injuring his hand in a game Wednesday. Sedin will take his place on the left side of twin brother Henrik Sedin, who will be honored in a pre-game ceremony for playing his 1,000th NHL game on the road on March 12.
With neither team skating in the morning ahead of a 5 p.m. local start, Kesler's status won't be known until game time. If he can play, Kesler will take his regular spot on the second line, bumping Shawn Matthias down to the fourth line, and moving Jordan Schroeder into the press box as a healthy scratch.
Based on that, here are the expected lineups Sunday for the Canucks and Sabres:
Marcus Foligno – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Cory Conacher – Cody Hodgson – Torrey Mitchell
Matt Ellis – Brian Flynn – Matt D'Agostini
John Scott – Zenon Konopka – Nicolas Deslauriers
Chad Ruhwedel – Christian Ehrhoff
Rasmus Ristolainen – Henrik Tallinder
Mike Weber – Jamie McBain
Scratched: Ville Leino
Injured: Jhonas Enroth (lower body), Michal Neuvirth (lower body), Tyler Myers (elbow), Alexander Sulzer (upper body), Chris Stewart (ankle), Zemgus Girgensons (lower body).
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Nicklas Jensen
Chris Higgins – Ryan Kesler – Jannik Hansen
David Booth – Brad Richardson – Zach Kassian
Tom Sestito – Shawn Matthias – Zac Dalpe
Alexander Edler – Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis – Jason Garrison
Ryan Stanton – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Jordan Schroeder, Michael Zalewski