PANTHERS (12-8-7) at SABRES (11-16-2)
TV: FS-F, MSG-B, BELL TV
BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres are seeking their fifth consecutive win but will have to beat a Florida Panthers team on Saturday that they haven’t had much success against recently to do it.
The Sabres have lost five consecutive to the Panthers and four straight at First Niagara Center. The Sabres dropped a 3-2 decision to the Panthers Dec. 6 in Sunrise.
“Last game we put a ton of shots on net and had really good chances,” Sabres forward Cody Hodgson said. “Either [Roberto Luongo or Al Montoya] will be a challenge tonight. Hopefully we get a lot of puck on the net and keep the offense rolling.”
Hodgson will re-enter the Sabres lineup after he was a healthy scratch against the Calgary Flames on Thursday. He takes the place of Cody McCormick who is out with a lower-body injury. Hodgson skated on a line with Chris Stewart and Patrick Kaleta at practice on Friday.
“We’ve got the [Zemgus] Girgensons line going now and we’ve got the [Torrey] Mitchell line going,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We’re just kind of finding those mixtures there. If we get [Drew] Stafford continuing to play, we’ll get that mixture going. You never know what will get Cody going from within.”
The Panthers are coming off a 3-2 shootout win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. Luongo made 29 saves and stopped both shots he faced in the shootout. Whether the Sabres face Luongo or Montoya doesn’t matter to them as long as they get the win.
“We’ve got to find a way,” Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. “Tonight’s a big night. I think a lot of guys are ticked off about [losing to Florida]. We can’t lose games to the Florida Panthers. That’s a team we need to chase, we’re obviously trying to chase them, they’re in the eighth spot [in the Eastern Conference] right now. They’re playing good hockey and we’ve got to outwork them tonight.”
The Panthers have won five of the past eight games.
Defenseman Andrej Meszaros will return to the lineup after he sustained a concussion against the Montreal Canadiens Nov. 28. Defenseman Mike Weber is out with a knee injury. Goalie Jhonas Enroth will make his third consecutive start.
The Panthers did not hold a morning skate. Forwards Aleksander Barkov and Scottie Upshall, both on injured reserve, and defenseman Shane O’Brien skated on Saturday. O’Brien was recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Thursday and was a healthy scratch on Friday.
Here are the projected lines:
Jonathan Huberdeau – Nick Bjugstad – Tomas Fleischmann
Sean Bergenheim – Dave Bolland – Brad Boyes
Jussi Jokinen – Vincent Trocheck – Jimmy Hayes
Tomas Kopecky – Derek MacKenzie – Brandon Pirri
Brian Campbell – Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell – Dmitry Kulikov
Dylan Olsen – Erik Gudbranson
Scratched: Shawn Thornton, Shane O'Brien
Injured: Scottie Upshall (lower-body – IR), Aleksander Barkov (hand – IR)
Matt Moulson – Zemgus Girgensons – Tyler Ennis
Brian Flynn – Torrey Mitchell – Brian Gionta
Nicolas Deslauriers – Marcus Foligno – Drew Stafford
Chris Stewart – Cody Hodgson – Patrick Kaleta
Josh Gorges – Tyler Myers
Nikita Zadorov – Rasmus Ristolainen
Andre Benoit – Andrej Meszaros
Scratched/Injured: Cody McCormick (lower-body), Tyson Strachan (lower-body), Mike Weber (knee)
Status Report: Tyson Strachan skated on Saturday with the team for the first time since he sustained a lower-body injury against the Tampa Bay Lightning Dec. 4.
Who’s Hot: Fleischmann has a four-game point streak for the Panthers with two goals and three assists during that run … Ennis had three assists and Moulson had two goals on Thursday against the Calgary Flames. Enroth has won two consecutive starts and has stopped 76 out of 79 shots combined in them.