TAMPA – In their first meeting with the Lightning, on Oct. 10, the Buffalo Sabres got off to the start they wanted. They outshot Tampa Bay in the first period and found themselves tied with the reigning Eastern Conference champions in the second.
Three unanswered goals later, that start was a distant memory and the Sabres found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-1 game.
On Saturday at Amalie Arena, the Sabres will attempt to extend that first-period effort to a full 60 minutes.
“They’re a top team in the League. Obviously for us it’s a good challenge,” forward Evander Kane said following Saturday’s morning skate. “We played a pretty good first period against them and I think we need to continue that for a full 60.”
Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Chad Johnson will start in net for the Sabres.
While they lost the game, the Sabres’ start in that first contest against the Lightning was one of their best of the season. Buffalo has struggled in the first period through four games, a trend that continued against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. The Sabres were outshot 14-7 and trailed 2-0 after the first period.
Getting off to better starts, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, comes with a mindset that begins in the hours leading up to puck drop.
“I think that’s a big part of it is your mindset and mentality to start the game. Your execution with the puck puts you in an opportunity to have success,” Bylsma said. “Where you manage the puck and playing with speed, that’s [dependent on] how you start a game and that’s really a mindset and a mentality.
“You’ve got to be ready for that. And we have to grow and develop in that area, we have to be ready to bring it right from the drop of the puck.”
In the game they did win – on Monday against Columbus – Buffalo scored first for the only time this season. Kane stressed the importance of scoring first for the team as a means of capturing momentum and carrying it for the rest of the game.
According to center Ryan O’Reilly, getting that first goal will come as a result of improving on the other facets of the game.
“Yeah, it’s big,” he said. “I think taking control of the first is another big part there, whether it’s getting shots or having puck possession … we’ve had slow starts, we’ve always come out a little hesitant and not getting the puck as much, not getting shots.
“If we can start with that, start early and not be worried about the big picture and take care of the little things it’s going to open up a lot more for us and I think we’ll be more confident.
SCOUTING THE LIGHTNING
Tampa Bay will look a bit different on Friday than they did in their first meeting with the Sabres. Defenseman Victor Hedman, who has four points for the Lightning, will not play after suffering an undisclosed injury when his head hit the boards against Dallas on Thursday.
The Lightning will miss Hedman as they attempt to get back on a winning course after losing their past two games. Tampa certainly has the offensive fire power to do it – the top line of Jonathan Drouin, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan has combined for 15 points in five games.
“They’re a team that obviously plays real quick,” Kane said. “They’re a quick team, they move the puck well, and we’re going to have to try and disrupt them, especially their speed through the neutral zone.”
After sitting out as a scratch against Florida, David Legwand will return to the lineup in Tampa and will center Nicolas Deslauriers on the left and Jamie McGinn on the right. Legwand was on the ice when Deslauriers scored against Tampa in their first meeting.
Johan Larsson and Carlo Colaiacovo will both be healthy scratches for Buffalo.
23 Sam Reinhart – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 82 Marcus Foligno
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 88 Jamie McGinn
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 3 Mark Pysyk
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen