Buffalo Sabres Hope to Stifle Roar of Florida Panthers


The Buffalo Sabres hope to capture two points tonight in the team’s third consecutive game against a division opponent, as the Florida Panthers visit First Niagara Center in a 7 p.m. match-up to kick off 2015.

Both teams are coming off losses on New Year’s Eve heading into tonight’s game, but it’s a fresh year. Let’s (try and) forget Wednesday’s dreadful 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and hope that the Buffalo Sabres can pick up a pair of points against the other Florida team this evening.

Despite Wednesday’s loss, the Buffalo Sabres have generally been good on home ice lately, racking up a 9-3-0 record in their last 12 games at First Niagara Center.

Jhonas Enroth has also been good lately, compiling a 10-5-1 record as of late, but it appears as though Michal Neuvirth may get the nod in net tonight, according to a Tweet from Bill Hoppe.

Tonight’s game is the fourth of five meetings between the Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers this season.

The Panthers took the first two meetings of the season, but the Buffalo Sabres won the most recent meeting, a 4-3 overtime victory in mid-December that saw Nikita Zadorov notch the game-winner in overtime for his first of the season.

After tonight, the teams meet once more this season, in Florida on February 28 for a matinee show.

Tonight’s game may see the return of defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to the Buffalo Sabres lineup. Ristolainen missed two games with the flu, but skated in practice on New Year’s Day and could be ready to go tonight.

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In other defense news, Tyler Myers remains out of the lineup tonight but could rejoin the team during its upcoming road trip, and Mark Pysyk was returned to the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

Overall, Ted Nolan and his staff decided to switch some line combinations at Thursday’s practice, so we could see a few new lines tonight when the Buffalo Sabres hit the ice to face the Florida Panthers.

In addition to Myers being out, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Gionta and Marcus Foligno remain injured. Mike Weber missed Thursday’s practice for a maintenance day, but it’s unclear if this means anything more going forward, considering he was just removed from the injured reserve days ago.

Players to watch this evening:

Florida Panthers: 22-year-old center Nick Bjugstad, who just signed a six-year contract extension with the Panthers. Bjugstad leads the team with 21 points in 35 games, including a team-high 13 goals. Also: 21-year-old left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who has 17 points in 32 games this season and is on a three-game point streak (4 points).

Finally, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who is second overall on the team in scoring, with 20 points (5-15) in 35 games. Also keep an eye on the pair of former Buffalo Sabres who are in the Panthers lineup: Brian Campbell and Brad Boyes.

Buffalo Sabres: Left winger Matt Moulson, who has 17 points in 35 games this season and is on a two-game point streak. Overall, Moulson has three points (1-2) in his last five games. 19-year-old defenseman Nikita Zadorov has quietly built a two-game point streak of his own, having notched assists against Tampa Bay and Ottawa while consistently putting in over 20 minutes of ice time in each of the last four games.

Ennis is one of just three players on the Buffalo Sabres roster to have appeared in all 38 games this season. Zemgus Girgensons and Nicolas Deslauriers are the others.

At the start of 2015, the Buffalo Sabres sit 15th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 14-21-3 and 31 points in 38 games. The year has just begun and it’s a long road ahead, with 44 games remaining in this season. Where will they sit in April compared to now?

Tonight’s Buffalo Sabres game is the last at First Niagara Center for 11 days, as the team will head on a four-game road trip. They’ll visit the New York Rangers tomorrow evening, then face the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning next week before returning home on January 13 to host the Red Wings.

Five games in eight nights will be a true test for this Buffalo Sabres team — how many points will they return home with?