Tyler Ennis and Jamie McGinn, both absent at Tuesday’s practice, returned to the ice for Sabres practice at First Niagara Center on Wednesday morning. Both players are expected to play at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
For McGinn in particular, it will be special to get on the ice against Tampa Bay. His brother, Tye, was called up by the Lightning on Nov. 1 and made his season debut that day against the Carolina Hurricanes and their youngest brother, Brock.
Jamie and Tye have played each other once in an NHL game, in October of last season when Tye was with the San Jose’ Sharks and Jamie with the Colorado Avalanche. But this marks the first time that all three brothers are in the NHL at once.
“It was definitely a special game that we haven’t forgotten,” Jamie said of their first meeting on Wednesday. “To start myself in the NHL and to see the younger two come up and follow in my footsteps is amazing and I’m a proud big brother for sure.”
If Tye plays, it will be new to see a McGinn on Tampa’s side, but seeing the Lightning across from the Sabres in faceoff circle certainly won’t be. Thursday will mark Buffalo’s third game this season against Tampa Bay, with their fourth and final matchup scheduled for next Tuesday in Tampa.
Coverage on Thursday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“You don’t see it that often,” defenseman Josh Gorges said of the front-loaded schedule against the Lightning. “We’ve got to make sure we’re at our best; this is a team was in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. They’re where we want to be so it’s a good test and a good matchup for us.”
The Sabres came out on the wrong end in both of their first two meetings with the Lightning. Tied at 1 in the second period of their first game, on Oct. 10, Tampa pulled away in the third for a 4-1 win. But their second matchup – at Amalie Arena on Oct. 17 – is one the Sabres really want back.
In that game, they outshot the Lightning 32-22 but couldn’t capitalize on scoring chances in front of the net. Tampa scored the deciding goal with 3:57 to play in the third and Buffalo lost 2-1.
“That was a game where I think we felt like we played the way we wanted to and needed to play. It really stung, giving up a power-play goal in the last five minutes of the game to make it a 2-1 game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve talked about that game quite a bit, especially that first period … that’s how the Buffalo Sabres are trying to play every game.”
“I think we owe them one for sure,” McGinn said. “We’ve been playing well of late so we’re going to continue to focus on us and do the right things. It starts with the small things and our energy level and how we play the game, and where we’ve found success is playing a full 60 minutes – we start the game right; we do the small things and continue to move forward from there.”
Less than three weeks later, the Sabres have continued to improve their play. With a third-period, come-from-behind victory against the New York Islanders in Brooklyn on Sunday night, Buffalo became winners of back-to-back games for the first time this season.
The Sabres have won three of their last four games, the only blemish a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh in which they outshot the Penguins 53-29.
Come Thursday, Tampa Bay might see a Sabres team that’s already improved from their last encounter.
“I think we keep developing and changing and getting better every day,” Gorges said. “I think we’re playing a more consistent game than we were 2-3 weeks ago. The type of team we are hasn’t changed and the type of team we’re gonna be won’t change but we’re going to continue to get better.”
Obviously, it’s imperative for a team to string wins together to be successful, especially for the 5-7-0 Sabres as they continue to climb back towards a .500 record.
But for a young team that’s still taking form, winning consecutive games is also an important ingredient to the development of a winning culture.
“I feel like we need to learn how to develop a team that’s going to be a team that wins every night, that knows how to win every night, expects to win every night,” Bylsma said. “Early on when you don’t get results – you play well and you do some good things but you don’t get results – it’s hard maybe to get that concept.
“To be able to string a couple of wins together, to go on the road and come from behind and win in [Brooklyn], to say we’ve won three of four, it’s a significant thing for this group. At some point in time this year we’re going to say we’ve won three in a row. We’ve got a chance right now to do it.”
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
22 Johan Larsson – 15 Jack Eichel – 82 Marcus Foligno
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 12 Brian Gionta
88 Jamie McGinn – 17 David Legwand – 23 Sam Reinhart
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 46 Cody Franson
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
6 Mike Weber
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark