One day early, Brian Lee is getting quite the birthday gift.
The young defenceman from Moorhead, Minn., will make his National Hockey League debut tonight – hours before he celebrates his 21st birthday – when the Ottawa Senators face off against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
While Lee’s callup is related to the hip injury suffered by veteran blueliner Wade Redden during the Senators’ 7-5 loss Monday night in Montreal, head coach/general manager Bryan Murray said the 6-foot-2, 205-pound rookie will be in the lineup regardless of whether Redden is a go tonight or not. His status and that of forward Dean McAmmond (bruised thigh) won’t likely be determined until game time, Murray added.
What can the Senators expect tonight out of Lee, who’ll wear No. 55?
“He’s a rookie,” Murray said Tuesday morning. “He handles the puck and he skates (well), but he’s a young player and we have to know that going in. He’s going to be an NHL player and I think a real good NHL player.
“We know what he brings to the table when he has a little time under his belt. What can he do tonight? I hope play like he plays in the minors, where he does a lot with the puck… He retrieves the puck, he makes the first pass real good. He’s an all-star in the American Hockey League.”
There’s also “a possibility” forward Cody Bass could be inserted into the lineup, Murray added, but that depends on McAmmond’s status, in part. Brian McGrattan could also fill McAmmond's spot if he's still sidelined tonight.
The Senators will go back to goaltender Martin Gerber for a 12th straight start as they attempt a quick bounce back from Monday’s loss in Montreal, during which the Senators fell behind 7-1 after two periods before mounting a rally in the final 20 minutes.
Tonight, they’ll face a desperate Sabres team that, with only seven games remaining, stands three points outside of a playoff berth.
“They’re like us right now. They’re up and down,” Murray said in describing the Sabres. “They have great periods when they play outstanding, score lots of goals and then they have a period of time where they don’t play very well for a period or so.
“We know the offensive ability they have. If you give them room, they’ll score goals. We hope we can play well against their defence. They’ve got some young guys back there and if we play right, get the puck in their zone and battle a little bit, at least we should get some scoring chances.”
Winchester arrives in Ottawa tonight
Newly signed college prospect Jesse Winchester
is expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight, then undergo medical tests tomorrow. The Long Sault, Ont., native signed a one-year deal with the Senators that expires June 30, when he’ll become a restricted free agent. Though he’s not eligible for playoff action, the Senators would like to get the Colgate grad into the lineup at some point before the end of the regular season. “He had a (recent) shoulder issue, so we have to see how his health is,” said Murray. “We’d like to give him a couple of games, for sure.”Around the boards
The Senators return home Thursday night to face the Sabres again (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200). Fewer than 250 tickets remain for the game. Less than 50 are left for next Tuesday's visit by the Montreal Canadiens, while just 150 are available for the Senators' regular-season home finale April 4 vs. the Boston Bruins ... The Senators are 4-2-0 against Buffalo this season. The two meetings this week conclude their season series.