For the past month now, the Buffalo Sabres have been feeling better about their overall game.
The Sabres are 8-3-0 in their past 11 games and 6-1-0 in their past seven at home dating back to Nov 15.
After a tough month of October, the Sabres bounced back in November and find themselves climbing up in the standings. While they’re still five points from last place, they now find themselves seven points out of the final wild card berth in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re kind of making our way up there. We’re kind of getting to the middle of the pack, hopefully soon. A playoff spot is close,” Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said after practice Friday at First Niagara Center. “It’s something you’re always checking. We want to get back in a playoff spot and that eighth spot is pretty close.”
While the players and coaches entered the season with playoff aspirations, most media outlets picked Buffalo to finish in last or next-to-last place in the League. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said they took it to heart.
“There’s a room full of guys that have a lot of pride. When you start telling someone they’re not very good or expect them to be at that position – I’ve been in that position my whole life and growing up where I grew up – and it’s not a good feeling,” he said.
“The only one thing people fight for is respect. I think that’s the one thing this team has really been battling to gain – is respect. We don’t claim to be the best team in the world but at least we deserve the respect that the rest of this League gets.
“We’re going out to compete and battle and try to win. Even if you do those things right all the time, it doesn’t guarantee you wins, but at least there’s the respect factor.
“So it did have a lot to do with it and guys took it personally. It’s filtered into the game now where we’re starting to play the game the way we’re capable of playing it.”
Cody Hodgson watched Buffalo’s 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday from the press box as a healthy scratch. He and Nolan had a long chat during the warmup skate before practice. Nolan would like to see Hodgson simplify his game and focus on creating offensive opportunities for both him and his teammates.
Nolan hopes that having him watch one will have the desired effect. Hodgson will play Saturday night against the Florida Panthers as Buffalo continues its four-game homestand.
“Sometimes when you look at it, you say, ‘I do have a little more time.’ So we discussed all that stuff,” Nolan said. “We had a nice talk and he’ll be back in and hopefully get his game back.”
Watching the game helped Hodgson see the game from a different perspective he thinks can help him when he suits back up.
“I think the biggest realization you get up there is there is more space than you think,” he said. “You may not need more room to operate than you think on the ice. There’s time out there, even if it’s just a half-second, it makes a big difference.”
Nolan said Mike Weber was not at practice because he was being evaluated by doctors for an injury that’s afflicted him the past few games. He hoped to receive an update later Friday afternoon.
Tyson Strachan missed practice once again with a lower-body injury. He’s missed three games and Nolan said it’s just going to take time for him to get back to 100 percent.
After leaving midway through the second period of Thursday’s game with a lower-body injury, Cody McCormick missed practice on Friday. Nolan said he had an appointment with team doctors on Friday and that he could miss Saturday night’s game against Florida.
Andrej Meszaros could return to the lineup. A concussion has sidelined him for the past five games but he’s been cleared to return to action.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 82 Marcus Foligno – 21 Drew Stafford
80 Chris Stewart – 19 Cody Hodgson – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
61 Andre Benoit
41 Andrej Meszaros
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Did Not Skate: 6 Mike Weber, 8 Cody McCormick, 24 Tyson Strachan