Looking Ahead: Previewing the Sabres’ homestand

With seven games under their belt in the 2011-2012 season, the Buffalo Sabres head into somewhat-unfamiliar territory: an extended stay in Buffalo.

To this point, the team has played exactly one game at their home rink this month, a loss to Carolina on October 14. They’ve been superb on the road, sweeping a set overseas and winning their first three away games in North America before Saturday’s loss in Tampa.

Now, the Sabres will face that same Lightning team as they open a five game set at First Niagara Center. Only a point back of Toronto (yes, Toronto) for the division lead, a strong showing at home could be extremely beneficial to widening the lead on the rest of the Northeast Division, which, heading into Tuesday, sits 12th (Boston), 13th (Ottawa) and 15th (Montreal) in the East.

The Sabres have plenty to be happy about and plenty to be unhappy about. Thomas Vanek is scoring goals like they want him to, leading the team with six. The top line of Vanek, Jason Pominville and Luke Adam have combined for 11 goals and 25 points in the team’s seven games to date. At 5-2-0, they are getting to a solid start.

But there’s other stuff that is of some concern. The team was awful on Saturday in Tampa, so they’re coming off their worst outing of the year. Tyler Ennis is out for a few weeks with a high ankle sprain suffered in that loss. Ville Leino, the key offseason addition at center, has been relatively atrocious and asked Lindy Ruff to be moved to the wing.

So, they got that going for them.

Here’s a look at what to expect in the coming games:

Sabres vs. Lightning
Tuesday, October 25 – 7:30 PM

Tampa will be icing the same exact lineup as the one that shut out the Sabres on the weekend. The Lightning have only won one of their five road games this season. Buffalo struggled early at home last season, going 0-4-1 in October and not winning a home game until November 13th. Coming off a loss where they played poorly, with last season’s lesson in tow, and possibly Matt Ellis in the lineup, there’s good reason to think the Sabres will at least put up a better effort than they did on Saturday.

Sabres vs. Blue Jackets
Thursday, October 27 – 7:00 PM

If someone wanted to handicap which of game of this homestand was the most likely you’d see the Sabres grab two points, this one is it. Columbus is currently 0-7-1, dead last in the NHL, heading into tonight’s game against Detroit. They’ve been downright awful, blowing their last game against bottom-feeder Ottawa by allowing two goals in the final minute of the third period to lose 4-3. The franchise as a whole is reeling. The team can’t put a decent season together, and the fanbase is growing apathetic.

There’s probably a good chance you’ll see Jhonas Enroth in Buffalo’s net. And there’s probably a good chance you’ll see more than a few pucks make their way into Columbus’ net.

Sabres vs. Panthers
Saturday, October 29 – 7:00 PM

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has got his team playing well, which you’d never guess if you’d have watched the clinic the Sabres put on in Sunrise last Thursday. The Panthers are off to a good start, sitting second in the Southeast with a talented roster and some organizational pressure to start winning. They just traded David Booth to Vancouver, picking up Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm to bolster an already burgeoning armory of B-list and C-list veteran forwards. Their special teams has been good, and confidence is high. Could be a tough matchup for the Sabres, but after seeing the game Thursday, there shoud be points gained this weekend.

Sabres vs. Flyers
Wednesday, November 2 – 7:30 PM

This isn’t the same Flyers team that escaped Buffalo with the first round series in hand last spring. They pared off part of their core. Gone is captain Mike Richards. Gone is Jeff Carter. Now in Philly is some youth, some goaltending in Ilya Bryzgalov, and Jaromir frickin’ Jagr. It’s a totally different vibe in Philly, and the results have been hit-and-miss, but mostly hits so far. They just lost captain Chris Pronger to an eye injury for “at least ten days“, so the cornerstone of their blueline should be absent for this game. Advantage: Sabres.

Sabres vs. Flames
Friday, November 4 – 7:30 PM

Robyn Regehr will get a chance to face his old ‘mates in his new home. At this point, things aren’t going swell for the Flames, sitting with two wins through seven games. The one thing you can count on in this game is that Chris Butler will find a way on the scoresheet. It’s like a law that the player you just trade has to play well against you his first time back in your barn. That’s just the way it works. It’s science.

Overall, the potential for the Sabres is very high. They have some very winnable games in the first part of the set and can build some momentum for the tougher matches near the end. The Flyers game should turn out to be a watermark for where the team is, based on the fact that the Flyers have played well to this point.

It was the eighth home game on the schedule last season that saw the first win at the foot of Washington Street. The Sabres have a chance to get off to a much better start and make the First Niagara Center a home-ice advantage. Taking advantage remains to be seen.

Posted on October 25, 2011, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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