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Sabres looking to continue recent pace in Montreal

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

MONTREAL - Considering it's been less than two weeks since the Buffalo Sabres left Bell Centre with an overtime win, they won't exactly be looking to reinvent the wheel in their rematch with the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night. Rather, they'll look to continue the play that allowed them to win four out of six games leading into the All-Star break, including the 3-2 win over Montreal on Jan. 21.
"Much of the same," said Zach Bogosian, who scored the game-winning goal in that last meeting. "I think the last seven, eight games we've played some pretty good hockey. I don't think we need to change a whole lot. Maybe get the two points right away instead of overtimes but I think we've taken that next step in our game where we're feeling confident every night and we need to keep the ball rolling."

Video: Preview: BUF at MTL (01/31/17)

Not only are the Sabres feeling confident going into games, they're beginning to feel more comfortable in the offensive zone. Buffalo has scored at least three goals in each of its last six games and is averaging 3.33 goals per game in the month of January. 

Kyle Okposo, back with team after representing the Atlantic Division during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, said that the comfort between the forwards in the offensive zone has in turn freed up space for the defensemen at the point, allowing the Sabres to play as a true five-man unit. Cody Franson scored the tying goal from the point in the last meeting between Buffalo and Montreal.

"I think we're getting a lot more comfortable in the offensive zone and letting our skill take over," Okposo said. "When you're cycling down low and you're working down low it sucks the wingers down and then you can move it up to the point quick and that's allowing them to have some more time."

Video: Okposo: Pregame Interview at MTL

What also made them successful in the last meeting with the Canadiens, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, was one of their best forechecking efforts of the season. That effort not only helped to sustain offensive zone time, it limited the ability of Canadiens goalie Carey Price to impact the game with his puck movement. 

The key for the Sabres is to play that hard-forechecking, north-south style consistently. Bylsma pointed out that while the team is averaging nearly a goal more per game since Jack Eichel returned to the lineup in late November, they're also allowing four more chances against during that period.

"I think it's really a result of us playing a little bit more of an open game, a little bit more of a fast game, and when we don't take care of the puck we're giving up a few more chances against," Bylsma said.

Video: BYLSMA: Pregame Interview at Montréal

Robin Lehner and Price traded highlight-reel glove saves to end the last game between these two teams, and the same two goaltenders will start in net on Tuesday. Lehner has won his last two starts and four of his last five.

Coverage on Tuesday begins at 7 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Canadiens at 7:30.


Projected lineup

Dmitry Kulikov did not skate with the team on Tuesday morning but will be in the lineup come game time. Bylsma said not to expect Kulikov, who has missed 26 games with a lower-back injury, to participate in many morning skates for the remainder of the season.

William Carrier, meanwhile, will remain in the lineup while fellow Quebec native Nicolas Deslauriers will sit as the healthy scratch.

Here's the full projected lineup:

63 Tyler Ennis - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson

77 Dmitry Kulikov - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson


Canadiens returning to health

While they're still missing key offensive pieces in Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, the Canadiens will look a bit different from when the Sabres last visited. Defenseman Andrei Markov is expected to return from a lower-body injury and play on a pair with Nikita Nesterov, who will make his Canadiens debut after being acquired from Tampa Bay last week.

Forward David Desharnais is also expected to return from a knee injury.

"[Markov is] a big part of their defense, a big part of their puck-moving defense and on the power play as well," Bylsma said. "Desharnais going back down the middle gives them a little more depth in their top 12 forwards. They're a good team. They're a good team without those guys, they're a better team with those guys in their lineup."

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