SABRES (5-1-1) at LIGHTNING (3-3-2)
Season series --
This will be the first of four meetings between the clubs this season. The teams split the season-series in 2008-09 with the Lightning holding a 15-13 goal advantage. The Sabres haven't lost a season series against the Lightning in four seasons and are 7-3 in their last 10 in Tampa.
Big Story --
Lightning goalie Mike Smith picked up his first victory in nine months on Thursday in a 5-2 triumph over San Jose. Smith made 32 saves to stop a personal-high six-game losing streak, notching his first triumph since Jan. 27. Coach Rich Tocchet, in an attempt to light a fire under Vincent Lecavalier
, moved him to the top line alongside Martin St. Louis
and rookie James Wright
The return of Buffalo forward Tomas Vanek, who missed two games with an upper-body injury and who's averaged 40 goals the last three seasons, couldn't have come at a more opportune time -- he scored a goal on Wednesday in a victory over Florida.
The Sabres, who have a multitude of left wings on the roster, sent one of them, Daniele Paille, to the Bruins in exchange for two draft picks on Tuesday. The Sabres will receive Boston's third-round selection in the 2010 Entry Draft and a conditional fourth-round pick next June. The Sabres will be playing the second game of their three-game road trip that concludes Wednesday in New Jersey.
The team desperately wants to see captain Vinny Lecavalier get on the score sheet this season. He has gone 15 games without a goal, dating back to March 17. Still, Lecavalier is second on the team with 7 assists. Rookie defenseman Victor Hedman
, the second choice in the 2009 Entry Draft, leads all first-year players in average ice time with 24:34 and shifts per game (29.4).
Who's Hot --
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller
has yet to lose in regulation, posting a 5-0-1 record to go with a 1.65 goals-against average and .942 save percentage. He ranks third on the Sabres' all-time list with 151 career victories and has won 30-plus games in each of the last four seasons, including 40 in 2006-07. Lightning sophomore center Steven Stamkos
(6 goals, 10 points) has 4 goals and 6 points over the past four games -- the 2008 first-overall pick didn't notch his fourth goal last season until Dec. 27. Additionally, right wing Martin St. Louis
(9 assists, 12 points) has registered a point in every game this season.
Injury Report --
Buffalo defenseman Andrej Sekera
(ribs) will be sidelined at least until the end of the month. Buffalo left wing Clarke MacArthur suffered from flu-like symptoms earlier in the week but wore a surgical mask on the team's flight to South Florida and was in the lineup against the Panthers on Wednesday.
Stat Pack --
The Sabres have scored 19 goals in their last four games after recording just four in their first three. Forward Jason Pominville
is the team's active leader in consecutive games played at 258 -- the eighth-longest active streak in the NHL. Lightning forward Martin St. Louis
holds the seventh-longest active streak in the League at 315. Tampa Bay had allowed the first goal in its first seven games of the season before its victory over San Jose on Thursday.
Puck Drop --
Look for coach Rick Tocchet to keep his top line of Vincent Lecavalier
-James Wright-Martin St. Louis intact for another game against a red-hot Sabres team that has forced opponents to yank their starting goaltender in three of the past four games.
--Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com