The Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers will meet for the third and final time this season Saturday night at First Niagara Center. The Rangers have won both contests so far and the Sabres will look to slow them down.
Both teams have been off since Wednesday as Buffalo was able to collect a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs while the Rangers defeated the Capitals 3-1 in Washington.
Rick Nash and his 39 goals have helped the Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. What does Sabres alternate captain Mike Weber see as New York’s biggest strengths?
“Probably their speed, their relentlessness on the puck, also,” he said after Buffalo’s morning skate. “Their forecheck there, they’re coming in with a purpose and they want the puck and they’re going to take it to the net. Obviously they have their big guns there and Nash is having a heck of a year. They cause a lot of problems.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan stressed the need for his team to stay on its toes and make smart decisions both with and without the puck. A lapse against the Rangers could result in a goal against pretty quickly.
“They didn’t go to the Stanley Cup Final last year by accident,” Nolan said. “They’re a very talented team and if you have any kind of turnovers with them or try to create any turnovers with them, you’ve got to be quicker, you’ve got to be faster and you’ve got to be more alert. All those things, almost like the orange alert. We’ve got to be alert.”
LINDBACK GETS THE NOD
Anders Lindback will make his fifth-straight appearance and fourth start for the Sabres.
He’s played well for Buffalo in those games despite still looking for his first win with the franchise. Nolan credited goaltending coach Arturs Irbe for helping Lindback get back to form.
“He’s really worked on the parts of his game that need to be worked on and I think Irbe has done a tremendous job with all of our goaltenders this year – and especially Anders,” Nolan said. “Since Anders has been here, it’s been a progression of watching him get better almost every day so it’s nice to see.”
Mackenzie Skapski is expected to start for New York. He made his first NHL start back on Feb. 20, a 3-1 win against Buffalo. He hasn’t played since as Cam Talbot has taken the reigns for the injured Henrik Lundqvist.
KALETA BACK ON THE ICE
Patrick Kaleta was on the ice with the team for the first time since undergoing surgery in mid-February to remove a bone chip from his knee. The bone chip had limited his ability to bend his knee and affected his skating stride.
“Once they got that out of there, I felt like a new man the next day, pretty much, and I could straighten my leg and all that stuff,” he said.
Removing the bone chip is just the latest setback and he’s hopeful he can return to the lineup within the next few weeks.
Kaleta has overcome a lot of adversity when it comes to injuries – over the past two seasons, especially. After tearing his ACL last November, he worked hard to return for the start of training camp only to take a slap shot to the face during the preseason.
Surgery was required to repair the broken bones on the right side of his face and he missed the first 17 games of the season recovering.
“You can look at a lot of things and get negatives out of them. I’m pretty proud of myself, the way I’ve come back from the injuries I have,” he said. “Not a lot of people understand the things I had to go through and I could’ve easily packed it up and took my time with it, but I’m raring to get back. I’d do anything for this team day in and day out.”
Nolan is happy to see Kaleta inching closer to a return.
“It’s always good to see Patty. He brings that boyish enthusiasm to the game, which is contagious and it’s good to have him around,” Nolan said.
26 Matt Moulson – 22 Johan Larsson – 63 Tyler Ennis
82 Marcus Foligno – 84 Philip Varone – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 59 Tim Schaller – 19 Cody Hodgson
49 Jerry D’Amigo – 37 Matt Ellis – 20 Zac Dalpe
All seven Sabres defensemen took the morning skate, but Nolan would not announce which player would be sitting out against New York. He said they’d wait to see how one player, who is dealing with either an injury or illness feels, but he didn’t elaborate any further.
35 Anders Lindback
31 Matt Hackett