BUFFALO (LGS) — At least one new face will be in the lineup for the Buffalo Sabres Friday night as they take on the Montreal Canadiens at 8 p.m. in HSBC Arena (MSG-TV/WGR-AM).
Forward Dainius Zubrus, acquired from the Washington Capitals as part of Buffalo’s trade-deadline bonanza of four deals, will make his Sabres debut.
The 28-year-old Lithuanian will wear number 15, but he did have a chance to wear his familiar number 9. Derek Roy offered to give up his number for Zubrus, but the newcomer graciously declined, even despite his new teammates urging him on.
“They were laughing about it, but then he said, 'Take it. Take it,"” Zubrus said about Roy. “I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? You've been here. There's no way I would take it.' He did offer. He's a nice guy.”
The Sabres (42-16-5) are coming off of a convincing 6-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night. The game featured a shorthanded Buffalo squad play without both of its co-captains in one of its best performances of the season. Buffalo won despite dressing 19 players.
Coach Lindy Ruff is hoping that the addition of Zubrus to the power play will trigger a change in luck. The man advantage unit has been stellar in the last five games, going 9-of-29 (31.0 percent) but has been downright horrible against Montreal this season, having never scored a goal in 29 chances.
“I think we got a heck of a player,” Ruff said. “He’s a great fit for our team. He’s a guy that can command some minutes, play in a lot of key situations, can help us on one of our power-play units.”
Zubrus joins the team from Washington, where he centered the line featuring superstar Alexander Ovechkin. In 60 games this season, he accumulated 20 goals and 32 assists while gathering 50 penalty minutes and a minus-16 rating. He was the third-leading scorer of the team.
He knows coming into Buffalo that he’s not going to be looked upon as a savior but rather as a piece of a puzzle that will hopefully bring the Stanley Cup to Western New York.
“The last couple years in Washington, you didn’t really get to experience the playoffs and a really happy atmosphere,” he said. “You’re not even sure if you’re going to make the playoffs one day, and then the next thing you know, you know you’re going to have a very good chance of winning the Stanley Cup. It definitely gives you a little boost.”
Buffalo will be without leading goal-scorer Chris Drury, who is still recovering from the crushing hit delivered by Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators Feb. 22. He has, however, started to work out on his own and could return to the lineup Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche.
“We’re not going to put a date on [his return],” Ruff said, “but take a look at the middle of next week as a possibility.”
Injured defenseman Jaroslav Spacek also worked out Thursday with Drury, though no return date is scheduled for him. He is out with a broken hand suffered Feb. 10 against the Calgary Flames
Montreal (33-27-6) enters the game coming off of a disappointing 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers Tuesday.
“We just didn't show up and do the things we need to do against a team that we could've put a long ways behind us,” defenseman Sheldon Souray said. “The season is getting shorter.”
Souray leads Montreal with 22 goals this season.
Rookie goaltender Jaroslav Halak started for the fifth time in six games Tuesday. The 21-year-old has lost two straight games after winning his first three. Halak is filling in for injured All-Star Cristobal Huet, who tore a hamstring muscle and is out for the season.
The Canadiens, once considered among the elite in the Eastern Conference, now sit on the cusp of not making the playoffs, following a dreadful February record of 5-8-1. They currently occupy the eighth seed in the conference.
The last game played between the Northeast Division rivals was Jan. 20, the last game before the All-Star break. Montreal won 4-3 after Buffalo erased a 3-0 deficit.
In the season series, which will conclude March 31 in Montreal, Buffalo has a 3-2-1 record but has lost the last two contests.
Fun Fact of the Game:
Zubrus will make his Buffalo Sabres debut against Montreal, one of three teams he has played for in his career. He spent parts of three seasons in Montreal, from 1999-2001.