NEW YORK – The Buffalo Sabres have earned at least a point in seven of their last eight road games against the New York Rangers and will look to avoid a season sweep on Thursday.
They’ll have some more healthy bodies back in the lineup as right wing Drew Stafford will return and defenseman Henrik Tallinder declared himself ready to go as well.
Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. from Madison Square Garden.
Stafford and Tallinder, who both serve as alternate captains, have each missed the past four games due to injury.
Tallinder, 35, is the oldest player on the team and is happy to be able to play in the team’s final three games of the season.
“I think it’s just trying to finish what you started. I’m just looking forward to playing again,” he said after the team’s morning skate at MSG. “You never like to be sitting out or being hurt and stuff like that, so I’m just happy that my body feels healthy again.”
He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and he said he wants to keep playing hockey, preferably in the NHL. He said he isn’t going to close the door on any potential opportunity and that includes returning to Buffalo next season.
“I love hockey more than ever almost even though it’s been a tough year,” he said. “But when you get older, you kind of learn to appreciate what you have. This is what I love to do so I’m going to keep playing as long as I can.”
The Sabres have a lot of young players in the lineup, particularly on the blueline. They dressed three rookies last game but sent Mark Pysyk back to Rochester of the American Hockey League on Thursday because of Tallinder’s pending return.
Tallinder said he hasn’t had to change his game much as he’s gotten older, but has learned that it takes a little bit longer for older players to warm up to the speed of the game.
“I don’t have the jump that I used to have, maybe, but you know what? I always try to explain this to people. It’s tough to explain, but when you get older, you’re kind of like a diesel engine,” he said. “It takes a while to get going, but once you get going, it’s OK. Then you can compete with these – I don’t know, what do you say – jet fuel that they have. Once you’re in and you get going, you can compete with anyone.”
Zenon Konopka worked with the assistant coaches after practice and looks to be one of Buffalo’s healthy scratches. Nolan said that John Scott would take warmups just in case Tallinder faces a setback.
Matt Hackett will start in goal against Henrik Lundqvist.
Chris Stewart and Marcus Foligno were two Sabres forwards that returned from injury in the team’s last game. Sabres coach Ted Nolan tried them together on a line with Tyler Ennis at center. After the game Nolan said he was hoping for a little bit more from them.
With a few extra days of practice in, Nolan said some of the rust should be shaken off.
“I was hoping but then reality checks in. Stewart, you have to give him full marks for the work and effort he put in to get back in the lineup. We didn’t think he was going to be in at all. But he’s worked extremely hard to get back in,” Nolan said. “Marcus, the same thing. We thought he was done for the year and then he worked to get himself back in.
“But then I forgot about the timing aspect of the game and a little rustiness and your timing’s off a little bit. So, hopefully tonight they’ll be a lot better.”
At practice on Wednesday, Stewart was on the left wing with Ennis and Stafford while Foligno was on a line with center Brian Flynn and right wing Matt D’Agostini. The Sabres did not do any line rushes during their morning skate on Thursday.
Nolan said after the skate that he’ll mix the lines up to try and find a balanced four-line attack.
Ennis has 12 points (4+8) in 13 career games against the Rangers, including two of his six career three-point games, which came on April 6, 2010 and on March 23, 2012. Stafford has seven points (6+1) in his last seven games against the Rangers.
Cody Hodgson has recorded consecutive multi-point games for the second time in his career entering the game against the Rangers. The last time he’d done that was on March 19, 2012 at Tampa Bay and March 21, 2012 against Montreal.
He has never had three straight multi-point games. In 69 games played, Hodgson has already set new career highs in assists (24) and points (43). He’s also matched his career high in goals with 19.