VANCOUVER - Winning on the road is a skill the Sabres have certainly picked up since their last trip to western Canada in December of last season. That was Buffalo's first long road trip of the season together, and the Sabres were swept in three games.
They rebounded as the season wore on, however, and finished with a record of 19-17-5 on the road. Now, with a win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Sabres have an opportunity to walk away with five points in three games on the same western Canada trip that sent them home empty-handed a year ago.
"It's always a challenge," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's not so much the competition as it is the difficulty of the road trip, going out west and playing some hard games. I think it would say a lot about our group to knuckle down and get two points."
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. Johan Larsson is a game-time decision, but did skate with the team on Thursday morning and said afterward that he felt OK. Larsson missed practice on Wednesday for a maintenance day.
Bylsma said that Hudson Fasching will skate with the team in warmups just in case Larsson can't play. That means forward Nicholas Baptiste, who made his NHL debut on Tuesday in Calgary, will remain in the lineup. Baptiste skated 8:50 of ice time on Tuesday and his play on the forecheck helped lead to Zemgus Girgensons' goal in the first period.
"I liked his speed," Bylsma said. "I liked his composure with the puck, something I was looking for from him. He was in on the forecheck, turning over a couple pucks for them in the first period. I liked his wall play in the third. It added to our group."
The Canucks are 3-0-0 so far this season, but what makes their record particularly interesting is the fact that they have not yet held a lead in regulation. They've come from behind to win in overtime or a shootout in each of their first three games and are tied for third in the League with an average of 1.67 goals-against per game.
Jakob Markstrom will start in net for the Canucks. Former Sabre Ryan Miller missed the team's game on Tuesday due to injury but will dress as the backup.
Coverage on Thursday begins at 9:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B. Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray will have the call once the puck drops at 10 p.m., so join us live on MSG-B or listen on WGR 550.
With Larsson's status uncertain, let's look at two possible lineups for the Sabres against Vancouver. First, if he does play, we could see the same lineup we saw in Calgary on Tuesday:
23 Sam Reinhart - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
63 Tyler Ennis - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
26 Matt Moulson - 27 Derek Grant - 73 Nicholas Baptiste
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 47 Zach Bogosian
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 6 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson
If Larsson doesn't play, here's how the lines looked in his absence on Saturday:
Reinhart - O'Reilly - Okposo
Ennis - Grant - Gionta
Deslauriers - Girgensons - Foligno
Moulson - Baptiste - Fasching