ANAHEIM – Don't let the warm weather fool you. For as much sunshine as the Sabres will experience during their road trip in California, the upcoming week is anything but a vacation. They'll see the top three teams in the Pacific Division, beginning with a Ducks team that's hotter than the Anaheim air.
The Sabres have had success against these teams: They went 2-0-1 against the Ducks, Sharks and Kings in home games against each team this season, falling only to San Jose – who is tied for the most road points in the NHL this season – in overtime.
While the Kings and Sharks have maintained steady success since that time, the Ducks are a far cry from the team that lost 3-0 in Buffalo on Dec. 17. On that night, the Ducks fell to 11-14-5 on the season and were shutout for the seventh time.
Since then, they've been kept off the board only once. They're now 31-19-8 (8-1-1 in their last 10), just two points behind Los Angeles for the division lead and are seeing their star players return to form in front of All-Star goalie John Gibson.
"It's hard to believe the Ducks were in that spot to begin with," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after practice Tuesday at Honda Center. "Remembering them coming to Buffalo and even scouting them the games before coming there, we were looking at [Ryan] Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry, [Ryan] Kesler and a team full of speed and talent.
"We thought they were scary on tape even though they weren’t winning a lot of hockey games back then, and we felt that way playing against them. I think they're one of the better teams in the League."
The offensive struggles of Getzlaf, a six time All-Star, stood out the most for the Ducks in the early going. He had just one goal, an empty-netter, when they faced the Sabres in December. He now has eight and leads the team with 47 points.
Chad Johnson, who was superb in making 44 saves to shutout Anaheim in their first meeting, knew after seeing them that it was only a matter of time before the Ducks righted the ship.
"Getzlaf is hot right now, the team's really hot as a group," Johnson said. "San Jose has been good all year, if I can remember it was a tough game when we played them there and lost in overtime back at home. And L.A. is L.A., they always find a way to slowly improve throughout the season and build for the playoffs so it's going to be a tough road trip for us.
"But again, we had success against these teams and we just want to keep that going and learn from what we did at home."
Adding to the difficulty of the trip for Buffalo is the unusual arrangement of the games. Staples Center, the Kings' home, is only an hour drive from the Ducks' rink at Honda Center. But rather than play the Kings and Ducks in a row, the Sabres will fly north to face the Sharks in-between.
"Yeah, it's a little different," forward Evander Kane said. "But we're here for pretty much the whole week so we have an opportunity to play three tough teams and come out, hopefully, with three wins."
FRANSON WEARS RED
Defenseman Cody Franson, out for one game with an upper-body injury, was back at practice on Tuesday morning, albeit in a red non-contact jersey. Franson was injured in the head and neck area on a hit into the boards in Columbus on Friday night.
"That's an indication of where he's at – a no-contact day for Cody," Bylsma said. "He's dealing with, probably, at least one or maybe two injuries so he's got some ways to go I think before he leaves the red jersey behind him."
9 Evander Kane – 23 Sam Reinhart – 56 Justin Bailey
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 88 Jamie McGinn
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson/19 Cal O'Reilly
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
6 Mike Weber – 3 Mark Pysyk
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 46 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson