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STEWART RETURNS AS SABRES TAKE ON WILD

by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres will try to make Thursday the night they snap out of their current losing streak.

Buffalo has dropped eight games in a row, but some help is on the way as Chris Stewart will be back in the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game because of the flu. Stewart has eight points (2+6) in his past 13 games.

The Sabres and Minnesota Wild are set to square off at 7 p.m. from First Niagara Center. The Tops Gamenight pregame show will begin at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.

After a stretch in which they had as many as five call-ups in the lineup, the Sabres are starting to get healthier and develop more consistency in their lines. Torrey Mitchell returned on Tuesday. He was out for 12 games following a blocked shot off his foot on Dec. 15.

His line with captain Brian Gionta and Brian Flynn was going well when the team won 10 of 13 games last month and now he has the chance to play with Flynn and Drew Stafford.

“We were just trying to play the right way, keep it simple every time we went out on the ice. All three of us had that mindset of just working hard and playing for each other and supporting each other,” he said. “It was going well but there are new opportunities now and hopefully we can find some chemistry with other lines and who other guys are playing with starting tonight.”

Jhonas Enroth will start in net against Devan Dubnyk, whom the Wild acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday for a third-round pick.

Zac Dalpe, Tyson Strachan and Andre Benoit will be Buffalo’s scratches.


BIG PRESENCE IN FRONT
Defenseman Tyler Myers will play in front of the net on power play to try to help the League’s last-ranked special teams unit generate some more goals.

“One thing about Tyler, he can make a good pass and he understands the game very well,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “So not only is he big, but he’s intelligent. Right now, we’re just trying to find a way to get something going and hopefully that will work.”


OFFICIAL DEBUT
Garrett Rank will make his NHL officiating debut on Thursday. The referee from Elmira, Ont. will have about 90 friends and family at the game to commemorate the special occasion. Rank’s brother Kyle played professionally in the American Hockey League for parts of four seasons, including two years with the Portland Pirates, Buffalo’s minor league affiliate at the time.

Sabres defenseman Mike Weber, who played with Kyle, was excited to hear that Thursday will mark Garrett’s first game in the NHL.

“Obviously tonight, yeah, I’ll for sure go up and give him a little tap on his first game. Whether you’re a referee or a player or a coach, everyone’s goal is to make it to the National Hockey League,” Weber said. “This is the highest you can go. This is the best League in the world so it’s quite an honor and quite a privilege to make it this far.

“…Hopefully I won’t meet him in a bad way tonight.”


PROJECTED LINEUP
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 84 Philip Varone – 80 Chris Stewart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 37 Matt Ellis – 36 Patrick Kaleta

4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros

1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: 20 Zac Dalpe, 24 Tyson Strachan, 61 Andre Benoit
Injured Reserve: 8 Cody McCormick (blood clot), 12 Brian Gionta (upper-body), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)

Nolan indicated that the team may opt to sit Gionta out until after the All-Star break. Buffalo plays Saturday night at home against the Philadelphia Flyers and then on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Their next game after that isn’t until Jan. 27 in Calgary, which kicks off a four-game road trip.

Gionta has been sidelined since taking a hard hit from Boston’s Matt Bartkowski on Dec. 21.

“You have to make sure you maintain that patience and make sure you’re doing the right thing for him in the long term,” Nolan said. “I’d play him tonight to tell you the truth, but we’ll be a little bit more patient. We’ll see and if there’s still that little question mark, we’ll wait until after the All-Star Break.”

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