The Buffalo Sabres Pregame Skate arrives at the First Niagara Center on what is always a lovely day in Buffalo, even when the streets are lined by several feet of snow. The Sabres host the Montreal Canadiens in a Sunday night game in front of what may be an extra raucous crowd thanks to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Buffalo today. The players may not be drinking green beer today, but we won’t blame GM Tim Murray for sneaking a few into his suite for this one. How many he’ll need will depend on the show his team puts on for him. Given how the last five games have gone for Buffalo, it’s not likely to be pretty. Against an old division foe though, anything is possible.
The Montreal Canadiens arrive in Buffalo coming off an incredible three goal comeback in the last three and a half minutes of their game versus the Ottawa Senators last night. The Canadiens are firmly in the playoff hunt and, barring a losing streak, should have no problem making the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. That’s why Habs players will want to be careful in this one as they come off a huge emotional win last night to play a Buffalo team that would love nothing more than to deny their old division enemy two points in the standings. These are the kinds of games that separate the playoff teams that lose quickly and the ones who last a few rounds.
The Sabres, as we’ve discussed at length, are reduced to a few players who are fun to watch amid a squad that is the worst in its league by a wide margin. However, the bright sports continue to be worth discussion. Tyler Ennis now leads the team in goals and continues to show growth and poise in what has otherwise been a lost year. It’s telling to the maturity of a player who pushes circumstance aside and puts forth his best effort night in and night out even as the team around him evaporates. Drew Stafford deserves credit as well. Buffalo’s long time whipping boy, Stafford has played a hard working game alongside Ennis and anyone else. He may not have become the 30-40 goal scorer we envisioned when he was taken in the first round, but Stafford has handled this adversity like a professional and that’s to be commended.
In addition to the forwards, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen played his first game since an NHL recall and looked solid once more. In Ristolainen, the Sabres have a guy who will likely be ready to make a permanent leap to the pros next season and provide another bright spot on a team in dire need of any they can get.
Given that Jhonas Enroth played the night earlier, and since it appears that Michal Neuvirth is sick, the Sabres have called up goaltender Nathan Lieuwen to likely start tonight. If that stands, this will be Lieuwen’s first career game in the NHL. A sixth round pick in the organization, Lieuwen has a 17-11-2 record with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, posting a 2.34 GAA and a .922 SV%. Peter Budaj will get the nod for Montreal.
Game time is at 7PM, and it can be seen locally on MSG Network.