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Sharpen Up: February 24, 2017

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Well, today's the day. After four days off for the bye week, the Sabres will be back on the ice tonight for practice in Colorado as they prepare to play the Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday night. 

In case you need your memory jogged as to where the Sabres stand coming out of the bye week, here's a bit of a refresher on where they left off:

- Buffalo played a stretch of 11 games in 18 days since the beginning of February into the bye week, going 6-3-1. That included a three-game winning streak against Ottawa, Colorado and St. Louis before falling in their final game against Chicago on Sunday.

That streak was enough to get the Sabres back into the playoff race - they came as close as one point out from a wild card spot - but it was hard to know where they stood because most of their competitors had games in hand. With the four days off, it's become clearer: Buffalo sits six points back both from third in the Atlantic Division (held by Toronto) and the second wild card (tied between Boston and the Islanders). We'll get into last night's scores later. 

- Evander Kane has been one of the hottest goal scorers in the NHL. He leads the team with 21 goals, including goals in each of his last two games, and all of them have come since Dec. 3. Only Montreal's Max Pacioretty has more goals (23) in that span. 

What makes Kane's streak more impressive is that all but one of those goals have come at even strength. His 20 even-strength goals lead the NHL since Dec. 3 and ties him for sixth in the League this season. Michael Grabner leads the League in that category with 25, but he's played 10 more games than Kane.

- The Sabres have been riding Robin Lehner in net, and for good reason. Lehner has started the last seven games for Buffalo, and 11 of the last 12. He's been especially strong since the calendar turned; of goalies with at least 10 starts since Jan. 1, Lehner ranks third with a .930 save percentage. 

- Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said to expect Zemgus Girgensons (middle body) and Derek Grant (shoulder) to return from injury sometime after the bye week, so we'll see if either player makes the trip to Colorado and Arizona. Buffalo was also dealing with a knee injury to William Carrier. 

(UPDATE 11:17 a.m. - The Sabres have recalled forwards Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues and assigned Grant to Rochester in a corresponding move.)

Chris Ryndak and Brian Duff will be on hand for practice tonight in Colorado, so be sure to follow them and check back here for updates.


Scoreboard watching

It's nice to not have to worry about games in hand, and that's the situation the Sabres find themselves in after Toronto, the Islanders and Tampa Bay played game No. 60 last night (Boston played game No. 61). The Maple Leafs lost to the Rangers in a shootout and the Lightning lost to Calgary (snapping a seven-game point streak), while the Islanders shut out Montreal and the Bruins won in Los Angeles.

So, coming out of the bye, Buffalo will be six points back from two separate playoff spots through 60 games. 

Florida, four points ahead of Buffalo, hosts Calgary tonight at 7:30 p.m. and then the Sabres have a chance to begin their final push against the Avalanche tomorrow. 


Dates and times for High School Championships

Western New York's top high school teams will compete at KeyBank Center on Feb. 26 and 27 at the 33rd-annual Super Sunday Club Hockey Championships and the Super Monday Federation Hockey Championships. 

The six schools participating on Super Sunday are Dunkirk-Fredonia, Iroquois, Canisius, St. Joe's, St. Mary's and Starpoint. Federation teams from Canisius, St. Joe's, Lancaster, Williamsville North, West Seneca East and Kenmore West will face off the next day on Super Monday.


The full schedules for both days are as follows:

Super Sunday Club Hockey Championships (Feb. 26)
12 p.m. Dunkirk/Fredonia at Iroquois (Mixed school championship) 
2 p.m. Starpoint at St. Mary's (Small school championship) 
4 p.m. Canisius at St. Joe's (Large school championship)

Super Monday Federation Hockey Championships (Feb.27) 
4 p.m. Canisius at St. Joe's (Catholic school championship)
6:15 p.m. Lancaster at Williamsville North (Large school championship)
8:30 p.m. West Seneca East at Kenmore West (Small school championship)


On Tap

Duff and Ryndak will be on hand at Sabres practice in Colorado tonight, and they'll provide full coverage as the team returns from its bye week and prepares to face the Avalanche on Saturday. 

After their games in Colorado and Arizona this weekend, the Sabres will kick off a three-game homstand that begins against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night and continues with games against Arizona on Thursday and Tampa Bay on Saturday.  Tickets for all three games are available here.

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