Preview: Wild vs. Buffalo
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Due to the World Junior Hockey Championship being played in their arena, the Buffalo Sabres have not had a true home game since Dec. 22 and won't again play in front of their home fans until Tuesday.
But Sabres coach Phil Housley will at least get a taste of home on Thursday when his team visits Minnesota to face the Wild.
Housley's family still lives in the Twin Cities suburbs, where his wife Karin is a Republican state senator and has recently announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
As for the campaign that Phil Housley is running in Buffalo, the team is still solidly in last place in the Eastern Conference, but the first-year Sabres coach is seeing some signs of hope.
After their overtime loss to the New York Rangers in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, the Sabres have collected at least a point in four of their last five games.
"A lot easier, believe me. Early on in the season there were a lot of struggles and a lot of games we were in were one-goal games or we were even. We were just cracking at the wrong time, making a critical mistake at the wrong time, and they were tough," Housley said.
"It was tough on our hockey club and our coaches because we kept trying to grind it out and trying to find different areas where we could improve. We're playing a better brand of hockey now. You can see the confidence growing in our guys. ... There are times when we bend but we don't break, which is a credit to our team."
Buffalo's players have noticed a new, better feeling, both on the ice and in the locker room.
"We're definitely making strides and playing more consistently the way we want to play, which is usually a good sign," said forward Jason Pominville, who will be returning to Minnesota after the Wild traded him to Buffalo over the summer.
The Wild opened 2018 with a decisive 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, getting two goals each from Matt Cullen and Eric Staal. They were boosted by the return of Zach Parise to their lineup after the star left winger had missed the first half of the season due to back surgery.
"I felt really good from the start," said Parise, who had three shots and skated more than 13 minutes versus the Panthers. "Kind of re-learning different spots on the ice where you get pressured. But that'll come. Conditioning-wise, everything else actually felt really good."
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau sounded confident after the Florida game that they may inch closer to full health soon with the return of forward Nino Niederreiter, who has missed five games with a lower-body injury.
Niederreiter was a full participant in the Wild's practice on Wednesday and Boudreau expects him in the lineup versus Buffalo.