Rested Sabres look to ignite surge vs. Avalanche (Feb 25, 2017)
The Buffalo Sabres are rested and ready for a playoff push, and their first stop is in Denver to play the lowly Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.
The Sabres (26-24-10) have not played since Sunday and enjoyed their turn at a break that every NHL team has had once in January or February. Buffalo resides in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, but it is just six points behind Toronto for third in the Atlantic Division and the New York Islanders for the second wild card.
With 22 games left, points are at a premium, and there's no better place to start a surge than the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center, where the Avalanche (16-40-3) have won just seven of their 23 games.
A win might be tough considering how teams have performed in their first game after the five-day break. Entering Friday, the collective record is 4-12-4 after the bye.
Saturday's contest is a quick two-game road trip for Buffalo. The Sabres play at Arizona on Sunday before returning home to face Nashville on Tuesday.
Buffalo, which practiced in Denver late afternoon Friday, is expected to get forward Zemgus Girgensons back after he missed seven games with an unspecified injury. Girgensons' ailment was classified as a mid-body injury, but coach Dan Bylsma referred to it as a "full-body injury" before the bye.
Whatever kept Girgensons out is not an issue now and he is set to center the Sabres' third line against the Avalanche. They are also expected to get back forward Sam Reinhart, who missed two games before the bye because of the flu.
The Sabres will need to make a move to make room for Girgensons' return from injured reserve, with Nick Baptiste the likely candidate to return to Rochester of the American Hockey League.
While Buffalo is fighting for the playoffs, the only drama surrounding Colorado is if anything will happen before Wednesday's trading deadline. The Avalanche, last in the NHL in points and wins, are sellers if they want to be.
There have been rumors for months surrounding nearly every player other than Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen -- two players general manager Joe Sakic has deemed untouchable -- but so far the only move was trading Cody McLeod to Nashville last month.
The Avalanche are adding two players to the lineup without making a deal. Forward Rene Bourque is returning after missing 11 games with head and neck injuries suffered against Los Angeles on Feb. 1 and defenseman Erik Johnson is playing after missing nearly three months with a broken fibula.
Johnson will be sporting extra padding after a shot by Dallas' Tyler Seguin on Dec. 3 shelved him.
"In hindsight, I wish I had it before, but those are the kind of adjustments you make after the fact when things like that happen," he told HockeyBuzz.com after practice Friday. "It feels good and I wouldn't be saying I'm ready to go if it wasn't perfect."
One of the bright spots in the disappointing season is the play of Rantanen, the team's first-round draft pick from 2015. After spending most of last season and the start of this year with San Antonio of the AHL, Rantanen has come on strong in late January and February. He has eight goals in the last 14 games, including his first career hat trick against Montreal on Feb. 7.
"I feel comfortable after every game," Rantanen said recently. "I'm trying to put pucks more to the net and trying to shoot more, go to the net more. That's how you play well in this league."