WINNIPEG – Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian are familiar with the raucous crowds that fill MTS Centre to watch the Winnipeg Jets. On Sunday afternoon, 11 months removed from the trade that brought them from Winnipeg to Buffalo, they'll experience it for the first time as visitors.
On Feb. 11, Kane, Bogosian and goaltender Jason Kasdorf were sent to the Sabres in exchange for Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers, a pair of prospects and a first-round pick. Both Kane and Bogosian had spent their entire careers with the Jets organization, dating back to before their relocation from Atlanta ahead of the 2011-12 season.
As for what they'll hear from those fans on Sunday, Bogosian said he's sure they'll think of something. After taking the ice for practice on Saturday, he spoke about his excitement for the opportunity.
"It feels good," he said. "A little weird at first, but it's nice to get out there on the ice and get it out of the way. I just try to treat it like any other game; I don’t think I'm nervous. I'm excited to play against a former team."
The defenseman said that he still keeps in touch with his former teammates quite a bit, checking in often to see how they're doing away from the ice. On the ice, however, he doesn't expect those relationships to deter him from delivering a big hit or two.
"It'll probably be more fun I think," he said, smiling. "I have quite a few good buddies over there but you try to treat the game as professional as possible. I'm sure there will be a couple smiles out there, but once the puck drops it's game on."
Players are often excited to face their former teams for the first time, and the case likely won't be any different for Kane. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma recalled a conversation from the summer that helped paint a picture of the forward's enthusiasm.
"I met Evander I think around June 2," Bylsma said. "This game was one of the first things we talked about. He's going to have some emotion and he's going to be revved up for this game and revved up to play his old team here in Winnipeg."
On Saturday, however, Kane had a bigger objective on his mind. The Sabres are currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak and he himself hasn't scored since Dec. 26. He's had quite a few opportunities, including one that rang off the post on Friday, but he stressed the importance of not letting anything get in the way of winning this weekend.
"I'm going into it preparing as if we're playing any other team in the League," Kane said. "We're on a six-game slide here so we need the two points."
The game on Sunday will mark the Sabres' 42nd game of the season, officially kicking off the second half of the schedule. The players hope that, by the end of it, it'll be less about the past and more about getting the ball rolling on a positive future.
"As a team, we have to be a lot better," Bogosian said. "I think everyone has a lot more to give. It's always tough when you're in a bit of a slump and you're trying to look for anything to break that. Hopefully tomorrow night's the deciding factor and hopefully we get the two points."
Coverage on Sunday begins at 2:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with puck drop set for 3 p.m.
Goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Mark Pysyk both began their respective conditioning assignments with the Rochester Americans against Hershey on Friday night. Lehner allowed four goals – three on the first nine shots he faced – in the Amerks' 5-4 win.
Considering the fact that it was his first game action since Oct. 8 and only his second full game since Feb. 14 of last year, it was a step in the right direction for Lehner.
"I felt pretty good," Lehner said afterward. "I felt as good as it's going to be after almost a year of not playing a full game. I felt like I got better as the game went on and I felt calm."
Pysyk, meanwhile, said he felt good in his first game action since Nov. 7. The defenseman plans to play Saturday for the Amerks in Binghamton and again on Sunday at Blue Cross Arena. Lehner will make his next start on Sunday.
Zemgus Girgensons was absent from practice for a maintenance day but is expected to play against the Jets on Sunday, Bylsma said. Here's what the lineup looked like in his absence, with David Legwand skating on two lines:
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 88 Jamie McGinn
23 Sam Reinhart – 15 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 17 David Legwand
26 Matt Moulson – 59 Tim Schaller – 17 David Legwand
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
25 Carlo Colaiacovo
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark