Anders Nilsson felt under the weather when he returned to Buffalo from Toronto on Tuesday night and did not take the ice when the Buffalo Sabres returned to practice on Thursday. Apparently the added rest did him well, as Nilsson is set to start in net against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.
With the Sabres playing back-to-back, at home against Detroit and then on the road in Montreal on Saturday, coach Dan Bylsma said Nilsson had already been penciled in to start against the Red Wings. It make sense, given his numbers at KeyBank Center this season. In seven home games, Nilsson is 5-1-1 with .947 save percentage and a 1.84 goals-against average.
On the road, Nilsson is 2-5-3 with a .905 save percentage and 3.11 GAA. As to whether or not those splits mean anything substantial, Bylsma said he's unsure.
"They're aware of those numbers," Bylsma said. "They can be misleading, and they can be guiding sometimes when you have your starts and when you don't have your starts and how you feel about it. I don't know if they're legitimate."
If the game on Friday is anything like recent games between the Sabres and Red Wings, Nilsson can expect a close affair. Both games between Buffalo and Detroit this season have been decided by one goal; the Red Wings won 2-1 in a shootout in Buffalo on Nov. 23 and the Sabres won 4-3 in Detroit on Dec. 27. Last season, four of the five games played between the two teams were one-goal games.
"They've been low and high-scoring, they've been comebacks, they've been tight games, they've been loose games," Bylsma said. "It seems to have ended in a one-goal game or overtime or shootout situations. There's not really been a common thread from that.
"… Detroit is, the type of team they have and the type of forwards and skill that they have, a team that we've struggled to play well against defensively and it's lent itself to being more of a chance-for-chance game and one we have to stay away from tonight."
The Red Wings enter the game as winners of their last three, coming off a 6-5 shootout victory over Boston on Wednesday. Detroit improved to 6-0 on shootouts with that win, one that saw Thomas Vanek scores for the fourth time on four attempts this season.
The former Sabre has been a force for the Red Wings as of late, scoring seven goals and seven assists in his last 12 games. The hot streak has propelled Vanek into a tie with Henrik Zetterberg for the team lead with 31 points (12+19) despite playing in just 34 games.
"We're talking about some of the softest, most velvety hands in the League," Bylsma said. "He can make plays, he can dish it, watching him on the shootout again in his last game he has that ability but not only that, watching him on the power play right now he's making plays, he's dangerous and I don't think that's changed."
Petr Mrazek is expected to start in net for Detroit.
Tyler Ennis will return to the lineup for the Sabres after missing the game in Toronto on Tuesday as a precautionary scratch. Ennis returned from a 30-game absence against Dallas on Monday and scored 19 seconds into the game.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
A milestone for Moulson
It will be game No. 600 for Matt Moulson, a milestone that's impressive in itself but maybe even more so when you consider Moulson's journey in the League. Pittsburgh drafted him in 2003 but never signed him, and it took two seasons spent primarily in the minors with Los Angeles before he carved out a full-time role in the NHL with New York at age 26.
"I don't think I even realized it until my wife told me the other day," Moulson said. "I think we're very fortunate to play in the NHL for a living, something you grow up dreaming of and I don't think you really appreciate it I guess until you're a little older."
Defenseman Justin Falk will also reach a milestone, playing in his 200th game.
63 Tyler Ennis - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson
29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun
40 Robin Lehner
35 Linus Ullmark