Saturday will be a milestone night for two members of the Buffalo Sabres.
Tim Schaller will make his NHL debut while captain Brian Gionta will play in his 800th career game. In Gionta’s case, it is perhaps just as noteworthy that it will be against his former club, the Montreal Canadiens.
Gionta served as the Canadiens captain for four seasons before joining the Sabres as a free agent in July. Saturday’s game will mark his first trip back to Bell Centre since the move.
The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and CityTV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for a few minutes after 7 p.m.
The two teams played Friday night in Buffalo with the Sabres pulling out a 2-1 victory with Matt Moulson scoring the game-winner on the power play with 1:18 left in regulation. Buffalo has now won four of its past five games while Montreal has dropped two in a row.
Moulson’s goal came 36 seconds after Alex Emelin was sent to the box for checking Gionta in the head near the penalty box. Emelin had a hearing with the League on Saturday and has been fined $11,021.51 for the illegal check.
Gionta expects Saturday’s game to have the same edge.
“I thought it was a pretty good pace throughout,” he said. “To get wins is what we’re focused on right now. The way the power play’s been, to get a nice bounce there and kind of capitalize on one, it’s a nice way to win a game.”
Schaller, a 6-foot-2, 206-pound center, joins the Sabres for his first career recall since he signed an entry-level NHL contract with the organization in April 2013 as an undrafted free agent. He’ll fill in since Drew Stafford is unable to go due to a lower-body injury sustained during the first period on Friday.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan is hopeful that Stafford will be ready for Tuesday when Buffalo hosts Tampa Bay.
While playing in Rochester for the past two seasons, Schaller has appeared in 92 games, recording 33 points (17+16) and 58 penalty minutes. On Nov. 21, he recorded a career-high five points (2+3) in the Amerks’ win against Utica.
“I heard he’s been playing pretty well. He had that one game where he had big points, but I don’t think we’re calling him up for that reason,” Nolan said. “He’s more of a checking center iceman and he’s very reliable in his defensive zone. He’s not a first-year kid so he should be able to handle the pace here.”
He played four years of collegiate hockey at Providence College and was named the 2013 Hockey East Defensive Forward of the Year. He dressed in two preseason games for Buffalo this year.
Jhonas Enroth made 30 saves against Montreal on Friday and his effort has earned him back-to-back starts. Enroth has has posted a 1.37 goals-aganst average and a .959 save percentage in his past four games.
“He’s in a groove right now, so if he’s in a groove, we’ll keep riding him,” Nolan said.
Josh Gorges, another former Canadien, will not be able to play Saturday night. He’s been sidelined since Nov. 11 with a knee injury and was hoping to be ready to go this weekend. He’ll shoot for a Tuesday return as well.
Nolan said that Andrej Meszaros was also injured in Friday’s game so he’ll sit out and Andre Benoit will return to the lineup.
VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN
Voting is now open for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game, which will be held on Jan. 25 in Columbus. Fan voting will help decide which players make it into the game.
Usual suspects like P.K. Subban, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane are all near the top of the leaderboard as is Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons.
As of 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, the 20-year-old Latvian is first in voting amongst forwards and second overall, behind only Subban. He might have the support of an entire nation in Latvia. If that’s the case, Nolan, who coached the Latvian National Team in the Olympics, isn’t surprised one bit by their passion.
“The people of Latvia are supportive of their athletes, especially hockey players,” Nolan said. “They did it with [Arturs] Irbe and they did it with [Sandis] Ozolinsh.
“Now the next generation, the next kid coming out is Girgensons. I wouldn’t be surprised if the votes are coming from Lativa. There will be a lot coming from North America very shortly.”
Girgensons has 12 points (6+6) in 23 games this year and is tied for the team lead with a plus-6 rating. He has six points (3+3) in his past six games and skated a career-high 23:54 on Friday.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 19 Cody Hodgson – 80 Chris Stewart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 59 Tim Schaller – 36 Patrick Kaleta
24 Tyson Strachan – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 61 Andre Benoit
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Injured: 8 Cody McCormick (concussion protocol), 21 Drew Stafford (lower body), 41 Andrej Meszaros (undisclosed)
Injured Reserve: 4 Josh Gorges (knee), 31 Matt Hackett (knee)