Linus Ullmark will start in net as the Buffalo Sabres look to snap a four-game losing streaking on Tuesday night at First Niagara Center. To do it, they'll need to snap another streak as well. Their opponent, the Florida Panthers, have won a franchise-best nine games in a row to ascend to the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
"It's more about us than it is about them," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "They're obviously a good team, a team that’s high up in the standings, and they're playing extremely well. It's a great test for us. We need to be on, but it's a matter of us focusing on our game."
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
The Sabres and Panthers have already split a pair of 3-2 contests at BB&T Center. While those games were for the most part evenly matched, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said, special teams were the difference maker on both occasions. The Panthers were 2-for-5 on the power play in their win on Oct. 15 while the Sabres were 1-for-6; Buffalo was 1-for-1 in their victory on Nov. 13 while Florida was 1-for-3.
Ullmark made 36 saves in the latter contest, three of which came in the final minute as he scrambled to preserve a 3-2 win. He echoed Gionta's thoughts on Tuesday.
"They're a very skilled team, they throw a lot of pucks to the net," Ullmark said. "Of course they're on a roll; they're one of the best teams in the League so you've got to be careful with what you're doing out there.
"You have to keep in mind that if you mess up out there they're sure to take care of second bounces. It all comes down to what we're doing."
Roberto Luongo, who has shutouts in each of his past three games in Buffalo, will oppose Ullmark in net for Florida. Luongo is currently riding a Panthers-record seven-game winning streak, during which he has posted a 1.26 goals-against average, a .954 save percentage and two shutouts.
The scoring lead in Florida belongs to none other than 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who has tallied 28 points (13+15) in his 22nd season in the NHL. Jagr's multi-goal outing against Minnesota on Sunday was his third of the season and his first since scoring twice against Buffalo in November.
"I think, if you go way back, you see a skilled player, offensive guy," said Bylsma, who has both played and coached against Jagr. "I don’t know if I would've called him a hard worker, but he is now. And what he's done over the course of three decades has been real impressive.
"I just remark at the hard work he brings to the rink every day now. I mean I don’t know how old he is but after the game tonight, we're going to see him working out in the hallway. He was here last night at I don’t know what time – if not 10:30, 11:30 our cameras caught him … he's an example for pretty much everybody."
Goaltender Robin Lehner and defenseman Mark Pysyk, both recovering from long-term lower-body injuries, are slated for conditioning assignments with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League this weekend.
The Amerks play three games in three days: at home against Hershey on Friday, in Binghamton on Saturday and again at home against Syracuse on Sunday. Lehner spent parts of four seasons playing for Binghamton from 2010 through 2013.
Lehner will return to Rochester for a second conditioning stint next Wednesday according to Bylsma. The Amerks have a game that night in Albany.
Bylsma announced that defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo will return to the Sabres lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch for the team's last 11 games. Mike Weber skated on a pair with Pysyk at the team's morning skate and is expected to be scratched on Tuesday.
"I don’t expect a player to be all that happy about sitting out and I know he's been wanting to get back in pretty desperately," Bylsma said of Colaiacovo. "When I told him yesterday he'd be playing in this game, he was pretty fired up about that opportunity."
Tim Schaller will also make his first start since being recalled on Monday to fill the void left by injured forward Nicolas Deslauriers, who will miss 3-5 weeks with a lower-body injury. While Schaller has replaced Deslauriers on the roster, it's up to his teammates to fill his physical role.
"Marcus [Foligno] led our team last game with seven hits on our count," Bylsma said. "He needs to continue to do that. Tim Schaller will be playing center tonight, he doesn’t need to step in Nic Deslauriers' shoes. I really would like to see him be consistent in the middle of the ice and he'll get an opportunity to kill penalties as well."
Here's what the Sabres are projected to look like on Tuesday:
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 88 Jamie McGinn
26 Matt Moulson – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 59 Tim Schaller – 17 David Legwand
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 46 Cody Franson
35 Linus Ullmark
31 Chad Johnson