Brayden McNabb hasn’t played in an NHL game in almost two weeks. However, he has seen some game action during that time in the American Hockey League.
After sitting out as a healthy scratch for two games, the Sabres sent the 22-year-old defenseman to the Rochester Americans last Wednesday. In a game that night against Utica, he scored a goal, picked up two assists and was named the game’s first star. As planned, Buffalo recalled him following the game.
He’s been scratched in Buffalo’s two games since but McNabb will be back in the lineup when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday at First Niagara Center at 7 p.m.
McNabb said he had a productive meeting with the Sabres coaching staff before he was sent down and is looking forward to playing in a Sabres jersey again.
“[When] I came out of the meeting, I wasn’t mad that I was going down. It was a positive thing, so it was a good meeting and I’m just excited to be back in the lineup tonight,” he said after the team's optional morning skate.
“It’s always nice to know what they’re thinking and they’re being honest with you too. Sometimes it’s not all stuff you need to work on. It’s good to know. They’ve been really good with it and they’re easy to approach so it’s nice, especially for guys like me who are young.”
WATCH: BRAYDEN McNABB INTERVIEW
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan praised McNabb’s positive attitude upon his return from the one-game stint in Rochester. Nolan also said that he believes McNabb has the potential to be a consistent player in the League.
“He has an intangible, he has the grit part to his personality. He’s going to get better and better because he wants to work at it and he’s willing to work at it and he’s willing to learn,” Nolan said. “He knows himself. He’s almost there. When you’re honest with yourself and you know what you need to work on, he’s one of those kids that’s going to be a long-time NHL player once he gets here permanently.”
McNabb hopes he can carry some of the good things he’s done on the ice lately into the game against Ottawa. He is also expected to see some time on Buffalo’s second power-play unit.
Mike Weber will be the Sabres’ scratch on defense. Ryan Miller is expected to start in goal.
Buffalo hasn’t played the Senators since the second game of the season back on Oct. 4. Ottawa won that game 1-0 on a late third-period goal by Erik Karlsson.
After the game on Tuesday, the two clubs will see each other again on Thursday in Ottawa for the second half of the home-and-home series. With the tumultuous history between the clubs, having the two games so close together may help to really rekindle the rivalry.
“To kick it off with a back-to-back, it’s definitely special,” Sabres forward Drew Stafford said.
WATCH: DREW STAFFORD INTERVIEW
Stafford leads the Sabres with 23 points (6+17) in 37 career games against Ottawa.
“It’s kind of a playoff atmosphere a little bit where the first game, we’re going to want to obviously come out hard tonight and be aggressive and go after that,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
The game is one of six the Sabres will play this month against divisional opponents.
Nolan has been back behind the Sabres bench for about a month now and he said he can tell the team is improving in certain areas. Both on and off the ice, he can see where the team is growing and learning.
One specific area is in the team’s work ethic and Nolan has been able to pinpoint which players give a consistent effort.
“The one thing I really noticed the last week here or so, the good guys are starting to rise a little bit. The guys who are not putting that effort in game in and game out, they’re starting to stick out a little bit too,” Nolan said. “One thing you do with a team is kind of hold them accountable to one another, so it’s starting to work itself out. There’s patience, but we don’t get that confused with avoiding it.
“We’re in a production business. We have to perform and if you’re not performing then maybe you have to sit and watch for awhile.”
One player that is producing offensively for the Sabres is center Tyler Ennis. He’s recorded two goals and an assist in the past two games.
“Every time you score, you get that … confidence back, a little bit at a time,” he said. “When you get confidence, you get a little more poise. You kind of settle in a little bit rather than rushing things and getting back to making plays.”
WATCH: TYLER ENNIS INTERVIEW
Nolan shook up the lines at practice on Monday. Stafford found himself with Marcus Foligno and captain Steve Ott, who will likely center the line. They’ll look to find some chemistry quickly and start the Sabres off on the right foot.
“Just to keep our work ethic up and keep competing. The minute we take our foot off the game, you know what happens when we let other teams control the pace of the play,” Stafford said. “I think if we’re skating and being the more aggressive team, the chances will continue to come and hopefully sooner rather than later, it’ll start to break.”
Ennis will center a line with wings Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons. Cody Hodgson will start the game between Luke Adam and Matt D’Agostini. The fourth line will consist of John Scott, Cody McCormick and Brian Flynn.
Ville Leino will be a healthy scratch for the Sabres. Alexander Sulzer remains on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.
Leino has five points through 18 games this season, but no goals. He saw his ice time dip to 13:18 against the Canadiens on Saturday after playing at least 18 minutes in each of the five previous games.
“Certain players with a certain skill set, they have to bring it,” Nolan said. “And if you’re not going to play as well as you can, sometimes it’s better off to sit and look and observe for a while and hopefully when he gets back in, he’ll play the way he’s capable of playing.”
WATCH: TED NOLAN'S PREGAME PRESS CONFERENCE
Leino said after the morning skate that he didn’t feel that his game against Montreal was good enough, but felt satisfied with his play over the past two weeks. While the production hasn’t been there, he felt that his line had a lot of offensive zone time while producing quality scoring chances.
“I’ve been playing my game the way I’ve always been playing it. It just hasn’t gone in,” Leino said. “There are a lot of good chances, lot of scoring chances so sometimes it doesn’t go your way and you’ve got to go back to work and try it.”
In addition to his recent play, Nolan said that he did not think Leino practiced well Monday.
“I think we’re a product of our environment. If we don’t practice hard, how are you going to play hard?” Nolan said. “So it’s one of those things. We have to set a certain standard here that you have to be accountable for. Not just Ville, but everybody.”