Sabres seek­ing some spark out West

Have only won one road game in last nine

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Mike Har­ring­ton

The Western Canada road trip was a rare bright spot for the Buf­falo Sabres last sea­son. They’re des­per­ately in need of sim­i­lar suc­cess this year.

The Sabres hit the skies for Ed­mon­ton Sun­day, where they’ll open their an­nual three-game trip Mon­day night in Rogers Place against the Oil­ers. The road has not been kind for Buf­falo of late, as the Sabres are just

1-6-2 in their last nine games out­side of Key­Bank Cen­ter and have dropped four straight. They went 5-0 on their road dur­ing their

10-game win­ning streak in Novem­ber.

“It’s go­ing to be tough,” de­fense­man Marco Scan­della said after Satur­day’s 5-3 loss to

Tampa Bay. “Once our backs are against the wall, we play our best hockey, so we’re go­ing to go on the road, sim­plify it and grind out games. I’m very con­fi­dent in this group and we’re go­ing to go and have a good road trip.”

Since the NHL re­vised the sched­ule to once again in­clude ev­ery road lo­cale in 2013, the Sabres have gone 5-9-1 on this trip. They were just 2-91 un­til their un­likely three-game sweep last sea­son that in­cluded shutout vic­to­ries in both Ed­mon­ton and Van­cou­ver. Buf­falo was swept in both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 sea­sons.

Ed­mon­ton stand­out Con­nor McDavid turned 22 Sun­day but did not par­tic­i­pate in the Oil­ers’ pub­lic skills com­pe­ti­tion at Rogers Place be­cause he was ill. There was no im­me­di­ate word on his sta­tus for Mon­day’s visit by the Sabres.

The Sabres will be try­ing to bounce back from Satur­day’s frus­trat­ing de­feat to the league-lead­ing Light­ning, which saw Buf­falo give up

three straight goals in the third pe­riod that wiped out a 3-2 lead. They are 6-10-4 in their last 20 games and Satur­day’s loss dropped them out of an East­ern Con­fer­ence play­off slot for the first time since early Novem­ber.

“Ev­ery shift and ev­ery play mat­ters, es­pe­cially against good teams,” coach Phil Hous­ley said after Satur­day’s loss. “You have to make the right de­ci­sions at the right time, take what the game gives you. You can’t force things. Some­times the play is just get it in deep if you don’t have a play. That is the play and you have to live to fight an­other day. We’ve just got to go back to work. We’ve got to fight and keep claw­ing away. We knew noth­ing was go­ing to be easy and that’s a valu­able les­son for our guys.”

Here’s a quick up­date on how the three op­po­nents stand:

Ed­mon­ton (Mon­day, 9 p.m. ET): The Oil­ers are 12-112 since Ken Hitch­cock took over as coach from Todd McLel­lan and en­tered Sun­day two points be­hind Min­nesota for the fi­nal wild-card slot in the West. McDavid en­tered Sun­day tied for third in the NHL in scor­ing with 67 points (27 goals, 40 as­sists). Leon Drai­saitl is also hav­ing an­other big year (23-31-54). Ed­mon­ton is 3-3 in Jan­uary after end­ing Decme­ber on a six-game los­ing streak.

Cal­gary (Wed­nes­day, 9:30 p.m. ET): The Flames en­tered Sun­day’s game against Ari­zona 7-1-1 in their last nine. In Bill Peters’ first year as coach after com­ing from Carolina, they have soared to the top of the West on the strength of a 14-4-4 home record and plus-34 over­all goal dif­fer­en­tial. Last year’s 2-1 Sabres over­time vic­tory snapped a nine-game los­ing streak in the Sad­dle­dome that dated to 2000. Johnny Gau­dreau (26-41-67) en­tered Sun­day’s game against Ari­zona tied in scor­ing with McDavid while Sean Mon­a­han was tied for 10th (24-31-55).

Van­cou­ver (Fri­day, 10 p.m. ET): Rookie sen­sa­tion Elias Pet­ters­son has been out since Jan. 3 with a sprained knee but has re­sumed skat­ing and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if he’s able to re­turn by the end of the week. In 38 games this sea­son, Pet­ters­son has 22 goals and 42 points. The Canucks need him back be­cause they’re still hov­er­ing in the wild­card race, tied with Ed­mon­ton.

Tampa Bay de­fense­man Mikhail Ser­gachev was fined $2,403.67, one half his daily cap hit and the max­i­mum al­low­able un­der the CBA, for his cross-check­ing in­frac­tion on Sabres cen­ter Jo­han Lars­son in the third pe­riod of Satur­day’s game. Ser­gachev got a dou­ble mi­nor for cross check­ing on the play while Lars­son re­ceived a mi­nor for cross-check­ing.

The Sabres’ power play, how­ever, was wiped out 23 sec­onds later on the con­tro­ver­sial el­bow­ing call against Jack Eichel. And 54 sec­onds after that penalty, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos scored to break the 3-3 tie and send the Light­ning on to their 5-3 win.

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