SABRES (4-1-0) at PANTHERS (3-2-0)
TV: MSG-Buffalo, FS-Florida
Season series : It's the first meeting this season after they split four games in 2010-11. The Panthers shelled Ryan Miller in the first two home and away, scoring eight goals on 39 shots, but Miller and the Sabres bounced back later in the season taking the last pair. Tomas Vokoun, now with Washington, started all four games for the Panthers.
Big story: Both teams are off to promising starts, the Panthers' 3-0, loss at Washington on Tuesday notwithstanding. They had an explosive performance on the power play the night before, scoring five times in nine chances in a 7-4 win against in-state rival Lightning at Tampa Bay. Miller did a tremendous job covering for a slow start in Montreal on Tuesday, standing tall in a Habs barrage and keeping his Sabres in it long enough for Thomas Vanek to break a 1-1 tie in the closing seconds of the second period, and then holding on for a 3-1 road win.
Sabres : If teams indeed bond on the road, the Sabres will be a tight-knit bunch by the time they return home to the First Niagara Center after Saturday's game in Tampa Bay. The game in Montreal was the second of five on their current trip and the first of three in five nights in different cities. The Sabres are playing six of their first seven away from home, though their season-opening 4-1 win against Anaheim in Helsinki is considered a home game, at least by the schedule makers.
"It's kind of a plus," defenseman Christian Ehrhoff told the Buffalo News when asked about spending so much time on the road. "For me being that much on the road, it's nice to get to know everybody. It's a good team-building thing. You've got to be careful you win your road games like we have so far and get off to a good start."
So far, the premise has held true, as the Sabres' only loss so far came against the Hurricanes last Friday in their only game in Buffalo.
Panthers: The changes during the offseason have brought improvement to many aspects of the Panthers' game. Most notable is the improved power play -- after finishing last in 2010-11, the Panthers are second in the League at 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) in the early going. Coach Kevin Dineen said the improvement is for real.
"Give credit to coach (Craig) Ramsay for doing a lot of work on the power play," Dineen said to the Sun-Sentinel. "Just a little bit of patience. We scored one the first game, in Pittsburgh we had a little bit of a struggle, slowly pecking away and (Monday) it explodes. I'd like to take credit for our schemes and our way, but there was lot of high-end talent making - they weren't the pretty plays but really quality plays - they were getting the puck on the net."
Who's hot: Vanek's game-winner in Montreal extended his points streak to five games (4-4-8). Jason Pominville is right behind him with six points (1-5-6). Sabres forward Luke Adam, who played for Dineen in the AHL, is tied for the NHL rookie lead in points with six. … Florida's Brian Campbell shares the NHL lead in assists with Erik Karlsson of the Senators with seven. Kris Versteeg also has seven points thanks in part to a pair of power-play goals in a four-point night against the Lightning. Stephen Weiss also had two goals and two assists that night.
Injury report: Panthers backup goalie Scott Clemmensen (right knee surgery) is still expected back by the end of October, while forward Mike Santorelli (shoulder) has been skating but has no set return date. … Sabres forward Jochen Hecht remains out indefinitely with a concussion.
Stat pack: In Clemmensen's absence, rookie Jacob Markstrom got his first NHL start against the Caps on Tuesday, allowing two goals on 31 shots in the loss. … The five power-play goals for the Panthers on Monday tied a franchise record, while the penalty kill has allowed a goal in each of the last two games after snuffing out its first nine chances. … Pominville took just 155 faceoffs last season in 73 games played but has taken 29 in his first five games and is 8-2 on power plays.
Puck drop: "He bailed us out for our start. It was pretty sloppy at first. We'll take the win, but we've got a lot to take from this game. We've got to be better Thursday." -- Sabres forward Drew Stafford on Miller's performance in Montreal on Tuesday