UPDATE (2:45 p.m.): The Buffalo Sabres today announced the team has recalled forward Tim Schaller from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League (AHL).
The Chicago Blackhawks clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win over Vancouver on Thursday, but the Buffalo Sabres still expect the 100-point club to come into Friday night’s game at First Niagara Center looking to gain some more ground in the standings.
The Sabres will enter the game with back-to-back wins, most recently coming back from a two-goal deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
“It’s been a fun game to play. I think the way we’ve won, just the fashion that we’ve won has been the most exciting and fun part about all of it,” defenseman Zach Bogosian said.
“We’ve just got to keep our effort up. A team like Chicago, they have a lot of skilled players. We just have to make sure we outwork them and be physical on them and make it hard for them to make those plays because if you give them time and space, they’re going to make those plays. But it’ll be a fun game.”
The Tops Game Night pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell with puck drop scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will return to the lineup after missing one game due to what Sabres coach Ted Nolan called an illness.
However, left wing Matt Moulson and defenseman Mike Weber may not play. Neither partook in the team’s morning skate.
Moulson woke up feeling ill Friday morning while Weber has been feeling sore the past few days. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said they’re both questionable for the game against the Blackhawks.
With Schaller's recall, it's more likely that the team may be without Moulson.
No matter which players are in the lineup, Nolan expects his club to give 100 percent.
“You have to step it up. Obviously anybody in this League you don’t step up to, you’re going to get beat,” he said. “I don’t care what position you are in and particularly when you play top seeds like L.A. and Chicago and Anaheim, those type of teams, the Bruins. They’re all good teams in this League and you have to step up.”
Anders Lindback will start in net for Buffalo, marking his fourth-straight start. In the 12 games since he was acquired by the Sabres from Dallas on Feb. 11, he’s recorded a .923 save percentage and a 2.65 goals-against average, stopping at least 30 shots in seven of his past 11 starts.
Buffalo’s offense has been clicking lately. They’ve scored at least three goals in each of the past five games, including two without leading scorer Tyler Ennis. On the season, Buffalo has only averaged 1.9 goals per game.
Nolan said that the success has come in part because there is no longer the uncertainty of the trade deadline no longer looms. Players, especially younger ones looking to make an impact in the NHL, have been able to feel comfortable and grow into their expanded roles.
“It’s kind of a settled-in group. Some of the kids are really learning fast,” Nolan said. “[Captain Brian] Gionta’s one of the best leaders in this game so they’re learning what it takes to be a pro. They’re learning how to be more consistent.
“[Johan] Larsson, from the first time he got called up to this time, he’s much, much improved. [Mikhail] Grigorenko, the last couple games, has been gotten better, Ristolainen, all those [young players]. They’re learning on a fast track and they’re getting better.”
The Sabres power play has also had some success in recent games and has had to deal with some missing pieces along the way. With Moulson not at the morning skate, Philip Varone took a spot on the first unit, which features four forwards (Gionta, Larsson and Ennis on the point) and Bogosian on the other point.
“It feels good to get out there. As a defenseman, you like to pound pucks and shoot a lot. The power play gives you that opportunity,” Bogosian said. “Having Tyler back there on the point’s pretty fun. He can dish the puck pretty well so it’s pretty impressive watching him move the puck up the ice, especially on the breakouts.”
Ristolainen practiced on the second unit Monday, manning one point, while Andrej Meszaros set up at the other. Grigorenko, Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno were once again the forwards there.
The status of goaltender Matt Hackett remains a question mark. He did not partake in the morning skate and Nolan hinted that Andrey Makarov could start in net on Saturday against the Islanders. Nolan also said it’s possible that Hackett could feel good enough to practice on Long Island.
Hackett is dealing with some soreness and swelling in his knee that was surgically repaired a year ago. He last played on March 28, allowing three goals on 10 shots in two periods of relief.
12 Brian Gionta – 22 Johan Larsson – 63 Tyler Ennis
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 82 Marcus Foligno
20 Zac Dalpe – 84 Philip Varone – 36 Patrick Kaleta
37 Matt Ellis – 59 Tim Schaller – 19 Cody Hodgson
24 Tyson Strachan – 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Andrej Meszaros – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
61 Andre Benoit – 51 Nikita Zadorov
35 Anders Lindback
1 Andrey Makarov