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Oilers pay visit to snowy Buffalo

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers left Boston on Wednesday afternoon to falling snow, closed airports and frigid temperatures. Buffalo wasn't much better with three feet of snow dumped on upstate New York over the past 24 hours.

However, despite the cold start to this seven-game road trip - not to mention a 3-0 loss to Boston Tuesday to kick things off - the team's only concern is getting things back on track. And quickly.

"We started slowly," stated Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish matter-of-factly about Tuesday's game. Two first-period power play goals were all the Bruins needed to seal the win.

MacTavish split up the top line of Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth at times last game, but it was purely a match-up issue to try and keep the trio away from 6-foot-8 Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara. Expect the three to be reunited this evening in Buffalo.

"We're going to need production out of that line so I'm going to give them the icetime necessary to get it done," he said. "There's no point in saving anybody now."

With Minnesota's loss to Vancouver in overtime last night, the Oilers have another opportunity make up ground on the eighth and final playoff spot. They can close the gap to five points with a win tonight.

The Buffalo Sabres started out the season as the hottest team in the league, winning each of its first 10 games and picking up at least a point in its first 12 (11-0-1).

The team had its first taste of adversity in January when it dropped eight out of 12 games but things seem to be getting back on track for the number one team in the Eastern Conference with three straight victories heading into tonight.

Buffalo's most recent game was a 3-2 shootout victory over the Calgary Flames on February 10. Trailing 2-1 late in the game, Daniel Briere scored to tie it up before Ales Kotalik potted the shootout winner.

With the victory, the Sabres have now won five of their last six and three in a row for the first time this calendar year which says a lot for a team with a comfortable four-point lead atop the conference.

"The winning streak is great," Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff told the Buffalo News. "The little things inside the game have led us to where we're at right now."

Briere has been the offensive leader for Buffalo all season and he proved it again with his late-game heroics Saturday against Calgary. He needed precision-like accuracy to roof his backhand shot over the shoulder of Kiprusoff.

"I knew I didn't have much room," said Briere. "That was probably the only spot I could put it."

Tonight's game is Buffalo's third in a six-game homestand. They have won their last five straight on home ice.

ROSTER UPDATES (updated 10:40 AM): Edmonton - The Oilers will be going with the exact same lineup as last game. Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Daniel Tjarnqvist (inflamed pubic bone) is out. Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Fernando Pisani (concussion) is out. Buffalo - Tim Connolly (concussion) is out. Paul Gaustad (ankle) is out. Jaroslav Spacek (broken hand) is out.

OILERS TO WATCH: After being shut out last game, the Oilers had two scoring streaks of note come to an end. Petr Sykora had a three-game stretch during which he had five assists. Buffalo is likely a good place for him to get back on track as he has 10 goals and 17 points in 24 career games versus the Sabres... Another streak which ended was Shawn Horcoff who had a four-game scoring streak snapped. He has never registered a point against the Sabres in his career - a span of five games... Petr Nedved leads all Oilers with 41 points and 15 goals in 49 career games against Buffalo.

SABRES TO WATCH: Thomas Vanek is third in the NHL in plus/minus at +29. He has been a +1 or better in 30 games and a minus rating in only 11 games all season. On top of that, he has enjoyed an outstanding sophomore season with 29 goals and 55 points. The Austrian had only 25 goals all last season as a rookie... Sabres co-captain Chris Drury is enjoying yet another career seasons in Buffalo. After scoring 30 goals for the first time in his career last season, Drury has already matched that feat this year... Buffalo leading scorer Daniel Briere has 16 points (8g, 8a) in his last 11 games. He has picked up two or more points on 21 separate occasions this year and ranks among the league leaders in points with 68.

FAST FACTS: Buffalo leads the entire league in goals scored in the second period with 84 - 8 more than Nashville and 11 more than Tampa Bay. In the past 10 games, Buffalo has been particularly dangerous in this situation, outscoring opponents 16-7... The Oilers have allowed only 11 power play goals on the road all season. Despite giving up two last game, it's still the lowest in the league. The Sabres have a lot of offensive firepower but their power play on home ice is only 18th in the league (18.6%). So far on the Sabres' current season-high six-game homestand they have only scored one power play goal in seven opportunities.
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