COLUMBUS – With two games remaining in the regular season, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves up against some pretty tough opponents. It starts Friday night in Columbus for the team’s final road game of the year.
The Blue Jackets are on quite the roll as of late. They’re 10-0-1 in their past 11 games and are coming off a 5-0 win over Toronto on Wednesday.
They’ve been hit hard by injuries this season, having lost 502 man games due to injury, but have been able to put together a nice run to close out the season.
“This team, if they didn’t run into the injury bug, they’d be playing for the Stanley Cup for sure,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “They’ve got a very talented team. They’re starting to get healthy. They’re moving around the puck, they feel very good about themselves. As I mentioned to the guys, if we’re not ready, it could be a long night.”
The Tops Game Night pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell with puck drop slated for 7 p.m. from Nationwide Arena. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
The Sabres will close out the regular season on Saturday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7 p.m. for Fan Appreciation Night.
“Everyone here, we’re still going right to the final whistle. No one’s going to hang their heads early,” forward Marcus Foligno said. “With two games to play, they’re going to be tough games and you’ve got to be mentally and physically ready to go for them.”
Nolan sees these final two games as important ones for some of the younger players trying to establish themselves in the NHL. He pointed out the team’s three young centers – Johan Larsson, Mikhail Grigorenko and Philip Varone – in particular.
“Some of these guys want to make a lasting impression in their last couple games. So if [the team is] going to make some kind of moves, it’s not my position they’re going to be moving, it’s going to be somebody else’s,” Nolan said.
“Varone, it’s going to be a big couple games for him. Larsson, it’s going to be a big couple games for him, Grigorenko. Those are the type of guys who want to make a lasting impression so when you’re reviewing the roster here, during the offseason, draft, trade deadline, you know what you’ve got.”
STARTING IN GOAL…
Anders Lindback will start in goal for the Sabres while his counterpart Sergei Bobrovsky goes for his 30th win of the season.
Lindback will likely start on Saturday as well depending on how Matt Hackett is feeling. Hackett hasn’t played since March 28 as he recovers from some soreness and swelling in his surgically repaired knee.
It doesn’t appear that Chad Johnson, who stayed behind in Buffalo, will be ready to play Saturday. He’s been out since March 6 with an ankle injury. He practiced with the team on Thursday for the first time since sustaining the injury.
With Andre Benoit sidelined due to an upper-body injury, the Sabres called up Chad Ruhwedel from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. The Amerks played in Cleveland on Thursday, so for Ruhwedel, it was a quick trip to Columbus.
He joins the Sabres for his second recall of the season. In two NHL games during his first recall in March, he recorded one assist and a plus-2 rating. Ruhwedel has recorded 34 points (10+24) through 69 AHL games in 2014-15, ranking him fourth among Amerks skaters and tying for 14th among all AHL defensemen.
Now in his second full professional season, he’s reached a point where he feels that he’s adjusted to the style of the professional game.
“My defense has gotten better, but just being able to make plays, having the confidence in yourself to make those little plays through the middle, et cetera, being creative,” he said. “Whenever you can do a little more than just [put the puck] up the wall every time, it definitely helps with your confidence.”
26 Matt Moulson – 22 Johan Larsson – 63 Tyler Ennis
82 Marcus Foligno – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 12 Brian Gionta
19 Cody Hodgson – 84 Philip Varone – 20 Zac Dalpe
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 37 Matt Ellis – 36 Patrick Kaleta
24 Tyson Strachan – 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Andrej Meszaros – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
51 Nikita Zadorov – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
35 Anders Lindback
31 Matt Hackett