OTTAWA - The Buffalo Sabres are preparing for what will likely be a very emotional night for their opponent, the Ottawa Senators. Craig Anderson will return to the net for Ottawa after taking personal leave over the past few weeks to be with his wife, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. He did not practice the past two days, but will start in goal against Buffalo.
It's also Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Canadian Tire Centre, which should only add to the pregame buzz.
Robin Lehner, who spent the first five years of his career in Ottawa, will start in goal for Buffalo. Anderson was also with the organization during that time, so the two got to know each other very well. You can hear from Lehner below in Brian Duff's video preview.
Video: PREVIEW: BUF @ OTT (11/5/16)
Anderson last played on Oct. 30 after taking some time away from the team. He pitched a 2-0 shutout in Edmonton and was in net for a 2-1 overtime win against Carolina on Monday. He then spent a few days away from the team (including Thursday's 1-0 win against Vancouver), but is back and ready to go for Ottawa.
"I think everyone's given a lot of thought and a lot of contemplation to that scenario for both Craig and his wife," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after the team's optional morning skate on Saturday. "You saw that in the Edmonton game - the shutout - but really the whole arena, standing on their feet and the opposition's goaltender and everyone lending their support - it just hits home with their situation.
"We're all thinking about it. We're all [sending] thoughts and prayers to them, especially at this time when Hockey Fights Cancer is at the forefront with our games here in November. It couldn't be more at the forefront with the situation they're going through."
Video: BYLSMA: Pregame Interview
While it will be emotional and on their minds, the Sabres still have to focus on the job at hand: earning two points on the road against a Senators team that's won three in a row - twice by way of shutout. The Sabres are 3-1-0 over their past four games.
"We've just gotta play. We've just gotta play and get to how we can play," Bylsma said.
Join Duffer and Brad May for the TOPS Gamenight pregame show starting at 6:30 p.m. on MSG. Dan Dunleavy and Martin Biron have the call when the puck drops at 7 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
We talked to William Carrier after practice yesterday when he was called up for the first time in his career.
Video: Sabres in :90 (11/4/16)
Now, like most players getting ready to suit up in their first NHL game, he's going to be battling some nerves and looking to keep things simple.
"[I have] to play the same way I did in Roch," he said this morning. "Bring some speed, be physical, finish all my checks."
In seven games in the AHL with the Rochester Americans this season, he has three goals and an assist, including three points last weekend at St. John's. It looks like he'll start on a line with center Derek Grant and right wing Nicholas Baptiste.
"He's going to create space for me tonight and I'm excited to get on a line with him," Baptiste said.
When it comes to the number of friends and family attending the game to watch his debut, Carrier, a native of LaSalle, Quebec (about two hours away from Canadian Tire Centre), stopped counting at 20. Baptiste, however, hails from Ottawa, and estimates that his contingent of supporters could be in the "hundreds" tonight.
So if Baptiste does find the back of the net, expect to hear a lot of cheering inside the arena. And the odds of him scoring rise if his ice time also continues to trend upward.
Since his most recent recall on Oct. 30:
Oct. 30 at WPG: 8:00 TOI - 3 SOG
Nov. 1 at MIN: 9:22 TOI - 3 SOG
Nov. 3 vs. TOR: 9:40 TOI - 0 SOG
"As much as my ice time's increased, my chances have increased offensively each game in shots and just being around the net," he said. "Hopefully tonight I can contribute offensively and we can get the win."
He's only entering his sixth NHL game, but he's getting looks on the second power-play unit and found himself playing on the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo in the third period of Buffalo's last game.
"It was really the speed at which he was playing. It's something we want to add to that top line," Bylsma said. "He's a guy who can score goals, a guy who has a goal-scoring touch. He earned a couple shifts, a couple opportunities up with Ryan and Kyle, trying to bring that speed to that line."
Tonight's projected lineup
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
63 Tyler Ennis - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart
48 William Carrier - 27 Derek Grant - 73 Nicholas Baptiste
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 34 Casey Nelson
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson
Hudson Fasching will not play as he continues to deal with a groin injury. He's missed the past two games. The Sabres only have six healthy defensemen on the roster as Zach Bogosian is out weeks with a sprained MCL.