CHICAGO – Winning a game at United Center is never easy. The energy and build-up based on the fact Saturday night is also the Chicago Blackhawks’ home opener may make it that much tougher for the Buffalo Sabres.
The Blackhawks are 11-6-1-1 in home openers at United Center dating back to 1995. They finished with a 27-7-7 record at home last season.
Recent history hasn’t been too kind to the Sabres against the Blackhawks, especially in Chicago. The Sabres are seeking their first victory at United Center since Jan. 10, 2007. They’ve lost their last four games in Chicago and five in a row to the Blackhawks overall.
Buffalo will try to change all that when they take on Chicago for their first road game of the season at 8:30 p.m. EST (8 p.m. pregame show on MSG-B and Bell TV).
Keeping things simple and maintaining strong communication will critical if Buffalo wants to skate away with two points.
Sabres forward Drew Stafford has already noticed that the communication between players has already improved drastically since the start of training camp. He expects the team to build on the good things they were able to do in their season-opening loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Now that we have our team, going forward, I think we’re only going to get better,” he said. “Against Columbus, that was a good test. They’re a fast team. They’re on the attack and they don’t really give up much. We’re going to see the same exact thing tonight against Chicago. We know it’s not going to get any easier.
“As far as communication goes, we have it in here. We have a good group and we’re going to continue to work at it.”
A strong effort, first and foremost will be what the Sabres coaching staff will be looking for. They also hope the team will be able to learn from some of the mistakes they made against the Blue Jackets and correct them against Chicago.
“We have to reduce our number of turnovers and make those 5-foot passes as opposed to those 15-footers. We have to tighten up all areas of the game,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “…If you have any kind of turnovers and you want to play loosey goosey against a team like this, they’ll make you pay and they’ll make you pay hard.”
The lineup will be the same for Buffalo with only one switch to the lines. Sam Reinhart will center a line with Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart while Zemgus Girgensons will play between Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta.
Girgensons scored Buffalo’s only goal Thursday night. He also scored the team’s first goal of the season last year.
“One thing about Cody Hodgson, he can score some goals if someone gets him the puck. We feel the way Girgensons plays – he likes to hound that puck – hopefully he can spring Gionta and Hodgson,” Nolan said.
After a 37-save performance against the Blue Jackets, Jhonas Enroth earned another start. He’ll be in goal against Chicago.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 23 Sam Reinhart – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 17 Torrey Mitchell
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
61 Andre Benoit – 41 Andrej Meszaros
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Scratches: 24 Tyson Strachan, 51 Nikita Zadorov, 65 Brian Flynn
Injured Reserve: 3 Mark Pysyk, 29 Jake McCabe, 31 Matt Hackett, 36 Patrick Kaleta
McCormick was given a maintenance day Friday, but was given the all-clear to play Saturday night.