After a four-game road trip that took them from Western Canada to Montreal, the Buffalo Sabres are back home and they won’t be going anywhere for a while.
They’ll take on the St. Louis Blues on Thursday at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center to open a five-game homestand that spans the course of 11 days.
They’re coming off a 3-2 victory over the Canadiens on Tuesday in which they were able to withstand a furious assault from the Habs offense throughout the second half of the game. The Sabres were outshot 15-3 in the third period. Montreal had 47 shot attempts in the final period to Buffalo’s eight.
“A game is up and down and they’re obviously a good team,” Sabres alternate captain Matt Moulson said. “They’re going to get some pressure so you have to make sure you keep them to the outside and limit those quality chances in front.”
So can Buffalo start countering the opposition’s sustained pressure to generate some of their own opportunities?
“You have to get in their zone first to get some pressure. After a win, maybe we’ll play with a little more confidence and try to get that pressure in the third,” Moulson said.
The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
STARTERS AND SCRATCHES
Jhonas Enroth, who made 32 saves against Montreal, will start against St. Louis. Defenseman Andre Benoit will be back in the lineup for 19-year-old rookie Nikita Zadorov.
Zadorov played 13:39, down from usual average of 19:29. With it being the middle of the season, Sabres coach Ted Nolan wants to make sure Zadorov is as effective as possible in this, his first full professional season. He said he had a good discussion with Zadorov about the things he needs to continue improving so that he can develop into a consistently good player.
“Any time you have young players in the lineup, it’s a young season and there’s a big learning curve,” Nolan said. “You start seeing them dip off a little bit and you’ve got to get it before it gets down too far. We had a good discussion this morning about what he has to do on a consistent basis. He’ll get right back in.”
The last time the Sabres and Blues met – back on Nov. 11 in St. Louis – the teams squared off in a line brawl after Tyler Ennis took a post-whistle hit from Ian Cole after going in on a scoring chance in the second period. His teammates jumped to his aid and it established a tone and mindset that helped Buffalo win 10 of 13 games over the course of the next month.
However, injuries hit the squad after that stretch and they had lost 14 in a row before beating Montreal on Tuesday. The win has helped boost spirits in the room a bit.
“It’s actually a pretty big character builder. You know how things go in life sometimes. They don’t always go your way but you’ve just got to keep battling and battling and battling,” forward Patrick Kaleta said. “Hopefully you can dig your way that. In that aspect, we’re pretty inconsistent out there but it’s coming together as a group, as a team, trying to dig out.
“Hopefully we got a little bit of confidence after the last game and we continue to do that.”
Marcus Foligno, who broke his hand in a fight while defending a big hit on captain Brian Gionta on Dec. 21, skated with team Thursday morning. Wearing a red contact jersey, the team hopes to have him back either later this weekend or early next week.
“Just to have some people around this dressing room for a change, it’s been a week and a bit with them gone,” Foligno said. “So it feels good to get back out there with the boys.”
Michal Neuvirth missed the road trip due to a lower-body injury sustained during a workout over the All-Star Break, was also a participant at the morning skate. Buffalo returned Matt Hackett to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.
80 Chris Stewart – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
26 Matt Moulson – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
19 Cody Hodgson – 65 Brian Flynn – 21 Drew Stafford
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 37 Matt Ellis – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
61 Andre Benoit – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Scratched: 41 Andrej Meszaros, 51 Nikita Zadorov
Injured Reserve 8 Cody McCormick (blood clot in leg), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)