The Buffalo Sabres should get a big boost to their lineup Saturday night with Zemgus Girgensons set to return from injury.
The rookie forward has missed the past 11 games. He is expected to center a line with Cody Hodgson on the left wing and Brian Flynn on the right against the Tampa Bay Lighting at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan is really looking forward to having Girgensons back on the ice.
“Zemgus, he’s a life changer. Even his demeanor on the ice, it just lifts up the whole team. Those are the special people, special players do for your team. Especially being so young, he’s only 20 years old so he adds that much already. So we’re looking forward to him.”
Girgensons hopes he’ll be able to shake any potential rust off right away and create some offensive opportunities.
“There’s been a lot of mix and matches with the lines. I think it’s good for the guys to see all the guys. It’s a good experience to play all the positions and stuff,” he said. “It’s just playing the game I play and helping them to create some offense for Cody and do the stuff I do.”
Moving Hodgson to the wing is part of an evaluation process that is being overseen by the Sabres front office, including general manager Tim Murray.
“Tim and I had some really good discussions on going forward with the team and some of the pieces that we have,” Nolan said. “Cody’s certainly one of those pieces and we want to see where he best fits with the team going forward. Maybe he’s a better wing. But then you also have to play him with the right people to get him the puck.
“Because once Cody has the puck, within a certain footage of that net, he has a good chance of putting it in. He’s not known for his great defense and we don’t want him to play great defense. We want him to score offensively but you have to be reliable defensively. One thing with the wing position, it’s not as complicated as playing center is.”
Nolan foresees Hodgson and Girgensons becoming a pretty formidable duo down the road. Hodgson is looking forward to playing on a line with both him and Flynn.
“There’s lots of room to improve everywhere. I’m still learning wing and learning center as well,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of speed playing with those two guys so let’s hope I can keep up.”
Matt Hackett is expected to start in goal for Buffalo. It will be his fourth start for the Sabres since he was called up on an emergency basis on March 17.
Ville Leino will miss the game after feeling lightheaded in the first period against the Nashville Predators on Thursday. He skated only two shifts in that game and has undergone more testing back in Buffalo.
“He got evaluated. He came to practice today. He was doing OK and then just before he went on the ice, he didn’t feel very well again,” Nolan said. “He’s going to get back to the doctors and see what exactly what’s going on. But he’s still not ready to go.”
Nolan said that it’s possible that they could shut Leino down for the rest of the season as a precautionary measure.
“When you talk about the head, it’s not like an elbow or a knee or something, but your head. So we’re going to be very, very cautious on this one,” he said.
He joins a list of injured players that includes Tyler Myers, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Chris Stewart, Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth and Alexander Sulzer.
The team will honor former goaltender Dominik Hasek before the game by inducting him into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame. Hasek will become to 42 nd member of the Sabres Hall of Fame.
“The Dominator” appeared in 491 games for Buffalo from 1992-2001.
During his time with the Sabres, he won the Hart Trophy as the League’s Most Valuable Player twice (1997 and 1998) and the Vezina Trophy as the League’s most outstanding goaltender six time (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001).
He also was awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy as a part of a goaltending tandem that allowed the fewest goals in a season by playing at least 25 games (1993-94 with Grant Fuhr and in 2001) and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsay Award) as the players’ choice for Most Valuable Player twice (1997 and 1998).
Hasek holds the five best single-season save percentage totals from the 1990s. In that decade, no other goaltender’s best season was as good as Hasek’s fifth-best in terms of save percentage.
His No. 39 will be raised to the rafters of First Niagara Center sometime next season.
Fans attending the game should be in their seats by 6:50 p.m. The ceremony will also be carried live on the Tops Sabres Game Night pregame show, which begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG.
Nolan once again addressed his contract situation and the negotiations that have been ongoing.
“Like I said last week, Tim and I are real close on getting something done,” he said. “As I’ve mentioned all along, I’m very excited about the possibility of staying here and now it’s coming to a point where it’s really close. And I’m going to be really excited when we get it officially done.”
88 Cory Conacher – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
32 John Scott – 37 Matt Ellis – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 4 Jamie McBain
20 Henrik Tallinder – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
31 Matt Hackett
50 Nathan Lieuwen