In their first meeting of the season with the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, at KeyBank Center on March 5, the Buffalo Sabres rode a strong start and some timely bounces to a 5-3 victory. They'll look to replicate that performance in the rematch against Toronto on Thursday night.
The contest begins a stretch of seven games in 12 days for the Sabres, who last played on Saturday afternoon. The Maple Leafs are coming off a shootout victory against Dallas on Wednesday.
"We came out with the mindset of playing hard all over the ice," alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly said of the first meeting with Toronto. "I thought we skated well and made it difficult on them. We got a couple good bounces and went from there.
"It was a complete game that we were prepared for, and same thing [tonight]. We've had some time off here. Our start's going to be important tonight."
Evan Rodrigues will be back in the lineup for the Sabres after missing the past five games with an upper-body injury. He'd scored goals in back-to-back games prior to being injured and has nine points (4+5) in his last 11 games overall. The increase in production, Phil Housley said, had to do with an increase in shots.
"You can see when he does shoot the puck, he gets results," the Sabres coach said. "I wish he would do it more often, especially on the power play, getting pucks to the net. I just like Evan's game, he's just played a good two-way, solid game for us."
Video: HOUSLEY: Pregame Interview
Playing with a "shot mentality" has been a point of emphasis from Housley all season, and it was at the forefront in their first meeting with the Maple Leafs. The Sabres' first two goals in that game came on tips of shots from the point by Rasmus Ristolainen. Their final goal was scored on a rebound.
"We want to be that shot-mentality team when we get over the blue line," O'Reilly said. "This league, the goalies are so good. You have to put pucks in from everywhere and some nights you get bounces. I think that's what happened last time and we want to play like that again."
Justin Bailey, who scored a goal in the team's overtime loss to Vegas on Saturday, will be back in the lineup after being recalled on Wednesday. Seth Griffith will be a scratch at forward. Marco Scandella did not participate in the morning skate but will be in the lineup on a defensive pair with Ristolainen.
Robin Lehner, owner of a .946 save percentage in his last three games, will start in net for the Sabres.
Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night Pregame Show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.
Guhle continues to grow
Brendan Guhle made his return to the lineup in Buffalo's last meeting with Toronto, and he's been a mainstay ever since. The rookie defenseman skated a career-high 17:50 against Vegas on Saturday, when he put his electric speed on display duting an end-to-end drive to the net in overtime.
Housley said he felt Guhle grew in comfort as that first Toronto game wore on, and he's continued to grow ever since.
"When he attacks the game with speed, he adds to our offense," Housley said. "I'd like to see more of that. I'd like to see him be sharp early. I think he tries to ease into games a bit. I'd like to have him start the way he is through the middle portion of the game. But I like his development, I like his progression."
How does Guhle decide when to join the rush and add to the offense?
"The main thing that I find is who you're on the ice against," he said. "Are they tired? Have they been on a long shift? Are they fresh? Are we tired, are we fresh? There's a lot of different things that go into it. Sometimes if you see an odd-man rush developing I kind of put all of that aside and try and add to that."
20 Scott Wilson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
67 Benoit Pouliot - 22 Johan Larsson - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Jordan Nolan - 10 Jacob Josefson - 95 Justin Bailey
6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
45 Brendan Guhle - 8 Casey Nelson
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 93 Victor Antipin
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson