The Sabres are 9-2-0 in their past 11 home games and will try to keep that momentum going in their final game of the calendar year.
Buffalo takes on the Tampa Bay Lightning at 6 p.m. from First Niagara Center. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 5:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
In their last home game, the Sabres rallied back from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in the shootout. Forward Drew Stafford said having a loud crowd support them helped in their comeback effort.
“Hopefully we have a good start to the night tonight for our fans. We’ve had a good thing going here at home for a while,” he said after the team’s optional morning skate. “We’re just trying to ride that wave as long as we can, use some of that momentum from that comeback that we had the other night. We know when the fans are engaged, it obviously gets us going a little bit more.”
Before this current stretch, Buffalo had not won nine of 11 home games since Jan. 17 to March 7, 2007.
“We’re just excited to play in front of our crowd. They’ve been awesome, especially recently,” forward Brian Flynn said. “That game against the Islanders gave us a lot of momentum when we got that first goal; the crowd was really into it so it’s been a fun atmosphere.”
Coming into town is a Lightning squad that is on a three-game winning streak and has scored the second-most goals in the League. They’re tied with Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Captain Steven Stamkos is their leading scorer with 38 points in 38 games (20+18), but right behind him are Tyler Johnson (13+24) and Nikita Kucherov (15+19).
“Just looking at their roster, you can see this is a really skilled and fast team,” Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko said. “We just need to be physical against them. If we play a fast game and be patient in the D zone, I think we have a chance.”
BLUE LINE CHANGES
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will remain out with the flu, but Tyson Strachan will be back for the defensive corps.
Mark Pysyk will remain in the lineup and Andre Benoit will be a healthy scratch.
While Pysyk started the season in Buffalo, he ended up splitting the season in the NHL and in the American Hockey League. After sustaining an injury on his first shift of the preseason, he was sent to the Rochester Americans once he healed up and has played only three NHL games so far this season.
Pysyk has been paired with Nikita Zadorov and his steady play has been a bright spot in the eyes of Sabres coach Ted Nolan.
“His mental capacity to play in this league was there already. So now, I think he’s ready for primetime and we’ll see what happens,” Nolan said. “Pysyk’s paid his dues and he worked on his game, perfected his game. Hopefully he’s here for the rest of the year.”
Noland said that Ristolainen will likely be back in Friday against the Florida Panthers. Tyler Myers, who will miss his fifth consecutive game with a lower-body injury skated during practice on Tuesday, but Nolan said he wasn’t feeling too well after that and will skate again Thursday.
Jhonas Enroth will start in goal. He’s 10-4-1 in his past 15 games.
IT’S A CELEBRATION
The game also marks the return of Tux and Pucks, so many fans in attendance will be dressed to the nines as they prepare for New Year’s Eve festivities.
Fans who are looking to get gussied up in their New Year’s Eve best can take advantage of a special offer from the game’s presenting sponsor, Tuxedo Junction. Simply bring your game ticket to any Tuxedo Junction to receive a complete tuxedo rental for $20.15. The offer will run up through game time.
Four 50/50 raffle drawings will also be held during the game. The grand prize drawing will have a guaranteed minimum pot of $20,015, with the three other drawings having a guaranteed prize amount of $2,015.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 65 Brian Flynn – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 80 Chris Stewart
22 Johan Larsson – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 24 Tyson Strachan
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
51 Nikita Zadorov – 3 Mark Pysyk
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Scratched: 12 Brian Gionta (injured, upper body), 55 Rasmus Ristolainen (flu), 61 Andre Benoit
Injured Reserve: 17 Torrey Mitchell (lower body), 57 Tyler Myers (lower body), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)