BUFFALO (LGS) — The Northeast Division’s top two teams square off tonight as the Buffalo Sabres play host to the Ottawa Senators at HSBC Arena (7 p.m. – MSG-TV/WGR-AM) in the first game of a home-and-home.
The Sabres (40-15-5) enter the game having gone 6-1-1 in Feb. and 7-0-1 in their previous eight home games, including a dramatic win over Ottawa Feb. 7 which began a season-high six-game homestand that ends tonight.
The team, however, hasn’t been winning without some adversity. In every game of the homestand, it has lost at least one impact player to injury.
The latest, Daniel Paille, broke a finger Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period. He will be lost for 2-3 weeks.
“I actually laughed tonight,” coach Lindy Ruff said following the Sabres’ 6-3 victory over the Flyers. “What can you do?
Paille joins forwards Paul Gaustad, Jiri Novotny, Ales Kotalik, Maxim Afinogenov and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek on the injured list. Gaustad’s injury started the woes when he was cut on the back of his leg by a skate blade while killing a penalty in the first game of the homestand against Ottawa.
The recent rash of injuries has forced Ruff’s hand. In the last week, he has called up four forwards from the Rochester Americans to help numb the loss of his regulars. Doing so has left only seven Sabre prospects in the Rochester lineup.
“I said to Randy (Cunneyworth), ‘we don’t need you any more’,” Ruff said. “’I’m coaching both teams now. I’ve got all of your team here.’”
The latest to be called upon is Angola native Patrick Kaleta. He joins fellow prospects Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur and Michael Ryan with the big-league club.
“The people I know around Western New York that play hockey are so pumped up and ready for the game,” Kaleta said. “Hopefully, I can open up doors for other players from Western New York to be inspired and have a dream to play.”
Ottawa (35-22-3) meanwhile comes into tonight’s game on a hot streak of its own. The Sens haven’t lost since their last trip to Buffalo. The Senators have won five in a row since then, including Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
The Senators haven’t won six in a row since Nov. 2005.
Martin Gerber, who won each of the three games he started while replacing the suspended Ray Emery, made 27 saves before stopping both of Edmonton’s shootout attempts for the victory.
The win gave Ottawa head coach Bryan Murray 600 career victories. He became only the fifth coach to do so.
“It's elite company, no question about it, and I respect it a great deal,” Murray said. “To win that many games it’s a great compliment to the players I’ve had, to the teams I’ve coached.”
Emery is eligible to return tonight after serving a three-game suspension for slashing Montreal’s Maxim Lapierre on Feb. 10.
Emery could get the start tonight despite Gerber winning his previous six starts. Emery is 4-2-0 this season against the Sabres and has posted an 8-2-1 record in 11 career regular-season starts against them.
The two division heavyweights will conclude the home-and-home set, as well as the season series, Saturday at ScotiaBank Place in Kanata.
Fun Fact of the Game:
Contrary to Bryan Murray’s 600 victories, Lindy Ruff has only 345. Ruff will attempt to get 346 and 347 against Mr. 600 tonight and Saturday.