The Sabres will welcome back their leading goal scorer for Wednesday night’s home game against a Montreal Canadiens team that is searching for a season high-tying fifth straight win.
Buffalo (31-25-7) has dropped six of nine since Vanek fractured his jaw Feb. 7 at Ottawa. Without Vanek and his 32 goals, the Sabres have scored 20 times in those nine games and have three goals in three straight losses.
They failed to score against the league’s worst team Saturday night, suffering their second shutout in seven games with a 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders.
“We had plenty of chances to score, and we didn’t put any in,” forward Derek Roy said. “It’s definitely frustrating.”
In its previous 54 games with Vanek, Buffalo was 28-20-6 and averaged 2.87 goals with four or more in 19 contests.
“(Vanek’s return) is a big plus,” coach Lindy Ruff told the Sabres’ official Web site. “But I think the question is how ready is he going to be? Can he answer the physical, can he answer the conditioning. We hope he can.”
Vanek said because his jaw was injured, he didn’t fall out of shape like he might with a hand or a foot injury. He will continue to wear a full mask until he heals and must wear braces for the next three weeks.
“It’s always tough to watch the team, and especially when they’re not winning it makes it even tougher,” Vanek said. “You hate watching your team struggle out there, so it’s nice to get back and hopefully I’ll be able to help out.”
In his last nine meetings with the Northeast Division rival Canadiens (34-22-7), Vanek has six goals and eight points, including three goals in four games this season.
The Sabres are 2-1-1 against Montreal, winning 3-2 at home Feb. 6 in the last matchup. That loss was part of a 3-11-1 stretch for the Canadiens that cost All-Star goaltender Carey Price his starting spot.
With Price struggling in his return from an ankle injury, Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau replaced him with Jaroslav Halak on Feb. 21 against the Senators. Since then, the Canadiens have won four straight to reach fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Halak shined again Saturday night against West-leading San Jose, making 46 saves in a 3-2 victory.
“As long as we get the wins, that’s all we need right now,” he said.
Since scoring two goals in each of its four straight losses from Feb. 6-11, Montreal has averaged 3.5 in its last eight, going 5-2-1. Despite ending a five-game goal streak Saturday, Tomas Plekanec recorded a point in his eighth straight and has seven goals and six assists in that time.
After dropping their Oct. 10 season opener in a shootout at Buffalo, the Canadiens won five in a row from Oct. 11-20.