EDMONTON – The Sabres are focusing on putting together as close to a 60-minute effort as possible Thursday night when they take on the Edmonton Oilers.
Over the past few games, they’ve only managed to put a few quality periods together, but for one reason or another, the game turned and put the Sabres in the losing column.
Buffalo is coming off a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. That game was tied 1-1 heading into the third period before Calgary took control. The loss extended the Sabres’ losing streak to 12 games.
“It’s a bad combination of just a lack of discipline, getting in the box and, I guess, taking our foot off the gas a little bit,” Sabres forward Drew Stafford said. “It feels like in the third period, instead of going after it, it seemed like we just sat back and waited for something to kind of go our way and instead of taking control.”
The Tops Gamenight pregame show will begin at 9 p.m. EST on MSG-B and Bell with faceoff from Rexall Place scheduled for 9:30 p.m. EST. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Jhonas Enroth will start in net. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said the team may make one change to their defensive corps, but would wait until pregame warmups to make that decision.
Rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov will not play. He was late coming back from the All-Star Break due to an overbooked flight, missed practice on Monday and was suspended by the team. He rejoined the Sabres in Calgary on Tuesday and has skated the past two days. Nolan said Zadorov likely be back in on Friday against Vancouver.
“There are defining moments in everybody’s careers and what makes you [get to] that next level,” Nolan said. “I know he didn’t plan for this. It was just an unfortunate situation but I think it was a valuable lesson for him.”
The Sabres are about as healthy as they’ve been in over a month. When they went on their 10-3-0 run from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, the lineup closely resembled the one the team now has intact again.
“A big difference is we don’t have enough depth right now to compensate for some of the losses that we had,” Nolan said. “I’m not saying we’re the best team in the world, but at least we had healthy bodies, a little bit more mature bodies that were doing the right things, competing hard.
“By doing that, we were on the winning side of it. Right now we’re starting to get healthy again so hopefully we’ll go back on the positive side.”
Marcus Foligno is inching his way back from a broken hand and Michal Neuvirth could rejoin the team soon. He sustained a lower-body injury while working out over the All-Star Break. The team’s only long-term injury at the moment is to Cody McCormick, who may miss the rest of the season after being treated for a blood clot in his leg.
At one point in December, Buffalo skated five call-ups from the American Hockey League. Icing a healthy, experienced lineup has now allowed the Sabres to regain some consistency in their lines and defensive pairings.
“Just having veteran guys back like Brian [Gionta] coming back in – having your captain back – we showed we made some steps against Calgary,” Stafford said. “Obviously the third period is just unacceptable again. So we’re going to try and build on that against a team that’s obviously in a very similar situation as us. Hopefully we’ll show a little bit more desperation this time.”
FOCUSING ON THE GAME
The Oilers and Sabres are currently the 29th- and 30th-place teams in the League, respectively, but the players and coaching staffs are paying no attention to their potential draft position or upcoming picks.
“For the guys in the room, that’s the least of our concern is looking at something like that,” Gionta said. “We’ve got to find ways day in and day out to prepare ourselves, be professionals, do our work, improve every day and get better. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
21 Drew Stafford – 19 Cody Hodgson – 80 Chris Stewart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 37 Matt Ellis – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
41 Andrej Meszaros – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan
1 Jhonas Enroth
31 Matt Hackett
Scratched: 34 Michal Neuvirth (injured, lower body), 51 Nikita Zadorov, 61 Andre Benoit
Injured Reserve: 8 Cody McCormick (leg), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)