The 2014-15 season opened with a goaltending competition for the Buffalo Sabres. The year may also end with a battle in the crease, but with two different goalies fighting for the No. 1 job.
Chad Johnson, who was acquired Monday in a trade along with a third-round pick from the Islanders for Michal Neuvirth, will start for Buffalo on Friday in Ottawa.
Anders Lindback made his first start for the Sabres on Tuesday in Tampa, stopping 32 shots in a 3-0 loss. The Sabres picked up Lindback and a conditional third-round pick from Dallas on Feb. 11 for Jhonas Enroth.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan would like to see what the other new goaltender can bring to the table and hopes that one of his two new netminders will become a reliable option down the stretch and possibly beyond. Buffalo has 18 games remaining this season.
“If somebody shows something, they’re staying in,” Nolan said after Thursday’s practice at HARBORCENTER. “If one of these guys grabs the bull by the horns, they’ll get a ride.”
The Tops Game Night pregame show will begin at 7 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell with puck drop between the Sabres and Senators scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Johnson last started on Feb. 28 against Carolina. This season, he’s 8-8-1 with a .889 save percentage and a 3.08 goals-against average, but mentioned that one bad stretch of games has caused his numbers to balloon. In his past five games, he’s 2-2-1, and has stopped 159 of 170 shots (.935 save percentage).
“I was playing good hockey the last month-and-a-half and was getting more games and felt more comfortable,” he said. “It was just that one stretch there over two months, I had four games that just didn’t go well, I didn’t get settled in, had some tough games. That’s just how it goes sometimes.”
Mikhail Grigorenko was back with the team and he’ll play against Ottawa.
He missed some time due to a knee injury in Rochester but says he’s now fully healed. He scored on Wednesday’s in the Amerks’ 3-2 shootout loss in Utica on Wednesday.
Grigorenko has a goal and an assist in 12 games with the Sabres this season. In Rochester, he’s put up 32 points (11+21) in 39 games.
“I think I’m back to where I was before the injury and I thought I had a pretty good game last night,” he said. “I feel really comfortable with my knee and conditioning has been really good. I’m really excited to play tomorrow.”
Nolan would like to see production from Grigorenko, but also a solid work ethic every shift.
“With him, skill can only get you so far. There are a lot of guys with skill. But if you have no will with that skill, the skill’s no good,” Nolan said. “He’s gotta work. He’s gotta compete. And if you work and you compete with that skill, you should have good results. We’re hoping that happens.”
A spot in the lineup opened up because Zac Dalpe did not attend practice due to family matters, which Nolan did not elaborate on. It’s uncertain if Dalpe will be available for this weekend’s slate of games. Buffalo will travel after their game on Friday to Washington for a Saturday night contest against the Capitals.
Center Zemgus Girgensons was injured back on Feb. 24 after blocking a slap shot off his foot. While Nolan was hopeful that Girgensons would be back before the end of the regular season, he sounded less optimistic about that happening on Thursday.
“With that type of injury, you’re hoping to see him, but realistically, I’m not too sure if we will,” Nolan said. “It depends on the length of the injury, how [many] games we have left. If we have two, will you risk his rustiness getting hurt again?
“I’m not too sure of all those factors. There’s a lot of factors weighing into that, not just his injury.”
Patrick Kaleta has been out since Feb. 15 with a lower-body injury. Nolan said that he’s begun skating again, but didn’t have any further update.
26 Matt Moulson – 84 Philip Varone – 63 Tyler Ennis
82 Marcus Foligno – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 22 Johan Larsson – 19 Cody Hodgson
49 Jerry D’Amigo – 37 Matt Ellis – 59 Tim Schaller
61 Andre Benoit – 47 Zach Bogosian
51 Nikita Zadorov – 41 Andrej Meszaros
6 Mike Weber – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
24 Tyson Strachan
33 Chad Johnson
35 Anders Lindback