Sabres get an unfamiliar visitor in Blackhawks
BLACKHAWKS (19-7-3) at SABRES (17-9-2)
Last 10 --
Chicago 7-2-1; Buffalo 5-4-1
Season series --
This is the teams' only meeting this season. They last played on Jan. 14, when the Hawks rolled to a 4-1 victory at the United Center. Prior to that game, Buffalo had won the three previous meetings. Chicago is making only its second visit to HSBC Arena in seven years.
Big story --
Two teams that don't see each other much are coming into this game among the NHL's elite. The Hawks are tops in the Central Division and have won three of their last four -- all after regulation. The Sabres dropped a point behind Boston in the Northeast Division when the Bruins beat Toronto on Thursday, but they are still fifth in the East with 36 points -- largely thanks to the play of goaltender Ryan Miller, who made 35 saves in Wednesday's 3-0 victory over Washington.
No one will mistake Dustin Byfuglien
for Bobby Orr. But the 257-pound 24-year-old looked like No. 4 in overtime on Wednesday night, going coast-to-coast to score the winning goal in Chicago's 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers.
"I got the puck, got on my horse and took off," Byfuglien said. "Got a good clear lane to the net, drove and got it five-hole. … They were tired at the end of their shift. Put the jets on and see what happens. It turned out pretty good."
"It was the highlight of the year," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Great speed, great presence of mind. He cut in. Nice finish as well."
Nathan Gerbe follows instructions too well. The former Boston College star was told by coach Lindy Ruff to put the puck on the net after he got down low, hoping for a rebound. Instead, Gerbe put the puck in the net on Wednesday night -- banking it off goaltender Jose Theodore for his first NHL goal and helping the Sabres beat Washington 3-0.
"He didn't follow instructions," Ruff told the Sabres' Web site at Thursday's practice. "He put it in."
Gerbe, a big scorer at Boston College despite standing just 5-foot-6, was relieved to get his first goal in 11 NHL games.
"It's a huge confidence-booster," he said. "The weight is off my back and I can finally breathe a little bit."
Who's hot -- Marian Hossa
has 7 points in his first seven games with the Hawks after missing 22 with a shoulder injury that required surgery and delayed his debut after he signed a free-agent contract during the summer. Jonathan Toews
has 13 points in 14 games since returning from an injury -- and the Hawks are 11-2-1 in those games. … Miller is coming off a shutout and is tops in the NHL in goals-against average (1.82) and save percentage (.938). He also shares the League lead in shutouts with Ilya Bryzgalov of Phoenix; both have four.
Injury report --
Chicago forwards Dave Bolland
and Adam Burish
are on IR, but otherwise the Hawks are healthy. … Buffalo is still without center Paul Gaustad (leg) and Mike Grier (family illness), though Grier could be back for Saturday's game in New York. Gaustad has started skating again, though there's no timetable for his return. Center Tim Connolly didn't finish Thursday's practice due to some hip pain.
Stat pack --
Don't expect a lot of power-play goals in this one. The Sabres' penalty-killers have allowed a League-low 14 goals, and Chicago's PK crew is tied for second with 15. Chicago also leads the NHL with six shorthanded goals. … Chicago is 5-0-1 against Eastern Conference teams this season.
Puck drop --
The Sabres will go as far as Miller can carry them. He figures to have a busy night against a Chicago team that is really hitting its stride.