Flames-Sabres wrap up season series
The Buffalo Sabres are still having trouble putting the puck in the net and have yet to win consecutive home games this season.
Their next opponent could be coming to western New York at the right time as the Sabres wrap up their season series against the Calgary Flames on Monday night.
Buffalo (6-8-4) enters the contest after surprising the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins with a 2-1 shootout win Saturday behind Cal O'Reilly's goal in the tiebreaker and 46 saves through overtime from backup Anders Nilsson.
The Sabres fell 4-3 in overtime to the Flames on Oct. 18 in Calgary, but results in Buffalo have been far different for almost 20 years. Starting on Oct. 22, 1997, the Sabres have posted a 10-0-1 home record in the series, limiting Calgary to two goals or less nine times while scoring at least three goals eight times.
However, Buffalo is 15th in the Eastern Conference and has scored just 33 goals — an average of 1.8 per game this season. Nine of those have come at home, where the Sabres have managed one goal in each of the last five games.
Brian Gionta has an idea how the Sabres can improve.
“What we need is to play with a little more urgency, passion,” he told the Buffalo News. “That's all part of it being engaged in the game. … We need guys laying it on the line. Things can change from shift to shift with momentum, so that's the stuff we need to play more desperate.
“We're still continuing to grow and learn, but I think all those experiences are going to pay off. Those tough losses we've had, the games we've kind of given away on our own, those are all things you learn from. Those are how you change your culture by taking those lessons and turn them into positives”
Matt Moulson leads the team with six goals, and he's also the only Sabre with more than one goal at home in 2016-17. Ryan O'Reilly, Buffalo's second-leading scorer (four goals, five assists), took part in an optional skate Sunday, but could miss his sixth straight game with an oblique injury.
Nilsson may get a second consecutive start over Robin Lehner, who's 0-4-1 with a 3.15 goals-against average in his last five games, and took the loss in Calgary last month.
Calgary (8-11-1) began its longest road trip of the season — a daunting stretch of six games in nine days throughout the Eastern time zone — with Sunday's 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Dougie Hamilton, who had gone without a point in 10 straight games, drew three assists. Hamilton, who needs one assist for 100 in his career, has two goals and three assists in a three-game points streak in Buffalo.
“This is huge because we're looking at these six games almost like a playoff series,” Hamilton said. “We know we have to pick up some wins on this trip and this is a good start.”
With captain Johnny Gaudreau out for six weeks with a broken finger, Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said this is a teaching moment for the team.
“We need to play in 3-2, 2-1 games,” he told the Flames' official website. “It's going to help us evolve as a young group to learn what it takes on a nightly basis to consistently win in this league, and this injury to Johnny, we're trying to spin as a chance to grow in other departments.”
The Flames, who have won three of four, are 2-1-1 in the second of back-to-back games this season.
If Gulutzan decides to stay with the hot hand in goal, he'll start Chad Johnson over Brian Elliot.
Johnson made 21 saves, and is 3-1-0 with a 1.50 GAA, a .937 save percentage and a shutout. Johnson has played for six teams since breaking into the league in 2009-10, and posted a career-best 22 wins during his only season with Buffalo in 2015-16.
Going with Elliott may not be a bad thing as he's 4-0-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .952 save percentage in Buffalo. Elliott, though, has lost in each of his last five starts and is 3-8-0 with a 3.36 GAA and .882 save percentage this season.