IN MIDST OF BUSY STRETCH, SABRES HOST WELL-RESTED DUCKS
/ Buffalo Sabres
Two teams in the midst of drastically different stretches of their schedules meet on Thursday night at First Niagara Center, where the Buffalo Sabres are two contests away from completing a stretch of six games in 10 days.
Their opponent falls on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The Anaheim Ducks have played just one game in the last 10 days, a 5-1 loss to Carolina on Friday. While there's no question about which team will be fresher, is it possible that Anaheim might be a bit out of form coming into the contest?
The Sabres won't count on it.
"I haven't said it, don't believe it, but I heard the word 'rusty,'" Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I'm a little leery of that. They've been sitting for a while, haven’t played near as much as we've played, but I don’t think they're going to be rusty because of it. But we'd like to come out and make it look that way with how we play."
The Sabres, meanwhile, are working hard to stay fresh during their own stretch of games. Bylsma held an optional morning skate on Tuesday and an optional practice Wednesday in an effort to manage his players' energy levels.
Buffalo's 6-in-10 stretch has been increasingly difficult given the amount of travel it's called for. A game in Calgary last Thursday was followed by a four-hour flight home on Friday. They then had a home game on Saturday. Then they flew to Detroit after practice on Sunday to prepare for their game there Monday. After the game, they returned home for the second half of a back-to-back set on Tuesday.
"That's the thing," Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said. "Our days in-between have been travel days … We're busy on our off days right now and it makes it a little more complex, but we're managing it."
Just as the Sabres refuse to bank on the Ducks having any rust to their game, they also aren't putting much stock into Anaheim's scoring struggles. The Ducks have scored 55 goals, 10 lower than any other team in the League. Ryan Getzlaf, who scored 25 goals last season, has just one this season – on an empty net.
When Bylsma looks at the Ducks, he said, he still sees one of the top lines in the League which features Getzlaf and former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry. He sees one of the NHL's fastest defensemen in Cam Fowler and an "exceptional" goaltender in John Gibson.
His players seemed to agree.
"You look at that lineup, it's a lineup that looks like a team that you're going to try and measure yourself against," Franson said. "They've got the depth, they've got the talent, they've got every piece of the puzzle and it's not going to be an easy win no matter how they're doing."
In Sabres' lineup news, Chad Johnson will oppose Gibson in net while Cal O'Reilly will make his second start of the season in place of injured forward Marcus Foligno. Foligno did not skate Thursday and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Coverage 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 with puck drop set for 7 p.m. ENNIS UPDATE Sabres forward Tyler Ennis skated with the team on Thursday, this time without a red non-contact jersey, after practicing on Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 24. Bylsma expressed hope that Ennis will be ready to return from his upper-body injury against Chicago on Saturday afternoon.
"Yesterday he joined the optional skate; he had a hard morning before that and today joined the team so yes, he's going to be in practice tomorrow and hopefully that would mean he's headed to a return on Saturday." PROJECTED LINEUP 88 Jamie McGinn – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart 9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 26 Matt Moulson 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta 17 David Legwand – 19 Cal O'Reilly – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers