LOS ANGELES – On the one-year anniversary of scoring his first NHL goal, defenseman Nikita Zadorov will make his season debut for the Buffalo Sabres.
Buffalo will dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards against the Los Angeles Kings when the two teams square off at 10:30 p.m. EST Thursday night at Staples Center. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 10 p.m. EST on MSG-B and Bell-TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Sam Reinhart, Brian Flynn and Tyson Strachan will be the team’s healthy scratches. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Reinhart will be back in Saturday afternoon against the San Jose Sharks.
Zadorov has been a healthy scratch for the first seven games of 2013-14. He played seven games for the Sabres last season before he was returned to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Due to his age and junior eligibility, he can’t play in the American Hockey League, so the Sabres will have another decision to make on his status soon.
“I’ve been working hard for a long time to get an opportunity right now,” he said after the team's morning skate. “I have to step on the ice and play my best game.”
The 19-year-old Russian defenseman has been trying to make the most of his limited opportunities, working with the coaching staff in practice to improve his game.
“I never met a kid like him. He asks me every day, ‘Am I in, coach? Am I in, coach?’” Nolan said. “You can tell he’s a young eager player and sometimes they try to do too much [on the ice] to impress.
“The big thing we’ll try to emphasize with him tonight is just do his thing and move the puck. That first pass is so important, especially in this League. We’ll monitor his ice time and give him a little taste as long as he doesn’t try to overdo it.”
Buffalo is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games against the Kings. Jhonas Enroth will start in goal. He made 26 saves against the Kings last season in his lone start against them, a 2-0 loss in Los Angeles.
The Kings haven’t played since Sunday when they beat the Wild 2-1 at home.
THE TIES THAT BIND
It’ll be a big night for the Nolan family as well. The Sabres bench boss will have the chance to coach against his son, Kings forward Jordan, for the first time.
The two went out for dinner together in Anaheim and Jordan attended the Sabres game against the Ducks on Wednesday. The two stay in close touch, but neither really thought lining up on opposing benches would be a possibility a few years ago.
“I’ve been thinking about that for awhile. Not too often a father gets to coach against his son at this level,” Nolan said. “He’s like any other child where we’re pretty close. We’ll be looking forward to this game.”
The Kings were in Buffalo last November when the Sabres announced that Nolan would be back as head coach so Jordan was able to be there for that moment. Jordan has dressed in five games for the Kings this season and is looking forward to having a good game against his dad.
“It’s his dream to coach and mine to play. We never expected that this would happen,” he said. “We’ll have lots of family members watching tonight and it’s going to be a special night for our family.”
RIGHT BACK AT IT
The Sabres played in Anaheim on Wednesday and will wrap up their third of 19 sets of back-to-back games this season with Thursday's game against the Kings.
Buffalo is looking to build off their loss to the Ducks, a game in which they were down a goal with five minutes to play in the third period.
“We just worked and we competed for 60 minutes,” forward Chris Stewart said. “The last couple games, when we went down a goal or two, I thought our compete level dropped off. We really stuck with it in the third period.”
Like many other Sabres forwards, Stewart is looking for his first goal of the season. He’s been generating some quality opportunities on his line with Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno, but he hasn’t been able to find the back of the net yet.
“It always seems like it’s tough to get that first one but you can’t worry about it. As long as you’re getting chances, you know you’re doing something right,” he said. “You just have to bear down and keep plugging away at it.
“I think our line’s been generating some good offensive chances. I think we’re getting better as time goes by. Hopefully we’ll have a good one tonight.”
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 19 Cody Hodgson – 80 Chris Stewart
17 Torrey Mitchell – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 21 Drew Stafford
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
61 Andre Benoit – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
51 Nikita Zadorov
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Healthy Scratches: 23 Sam Reinhart, 24 Tyson Strachan, 65 Brian Flynn
Injured Reserve: 31 Matt Hackett, 36 Patrick Kaleta