The Buffalo Sabres failed to earn a point for the first time in nearly a month last time out and fell from the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They probably like their chances of bouncing back with their No. 1 netminder likely to go for a full game.
Olympian Ryan Miller(notes) is expected to get the start for the Sabres as they continue a season-high seven-game road trip Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings, who haven’t been enjoying much success on their lengthy homestand.
Miller was scheduled to get the night off Tuesday in Anaheim, but backup Patrick Lalime(notes) struggled mightily - yielding four goals in just over 10 minutes - leaving coach Lindy Ruff with no choice but to switch goalies.
Miller stopped 18 of 19 shots in his first relief outing and Buffalo (30-12-6) rallied with three goals in the second period to cut the deficit to one, but it couldn’t complete the comeback and lost 5-4. It was Sabres’ first regulation loss since a 5-2 defeat at Washington on Dec. 23, and it dropped them two points back of the East-leading Capitals. Buffalo still has a 10-point lead atop the Northeast Division.
“We showed a lot of character after being down 4-0, so you have to look at the positives,” Lalime said. “Everyone in this room never gave up and kept playing hard.”
Despite Tuesday’s disappointment, the Sabres are still 2-1-1 on this trip with eight wins in their last 11 games overall. They’ve been getting contributions from nearly everyone on offense, as 11 different players have scored the team’s 12 goals in the last three games.
On the defensive end, Miller has keyed the team’s success. The U.S. Olympic goalie is 6-1-1 with a 1.75 goals-against average and one shutout in eight games this month and 3-1-1 with a 1.22 GAA in his last five road games.
Miller was in net for the Sabres’ only game against the Kings last season, stopping 40 shots in a 5-0 home win. He is 2-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA and one shutout in three career starts against them.
Buffalo has won four of the last five meetings with Los Angeles, outscoring the Kings 28-5 in those victories.
Los Angeles (27-19-3), which hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002, opened a season-high seven-game homestand two weeks ago hoping that would help it make a move in the standings, but that hasn’t been the case.
The Kings, one point ahead of ninth-place Detroit for the final playoff spot in the West, are 2-4-0 so far on the homestand.
Like Buffalo, Los Angeles got off to a lackluster start Tuesday, allowing three first-period goals in a 5-1 loss to San Jose.
The Kings now hope to end their homestand on a high note before hitting the road for a five-game trip beginning Saturday against the Red Wings.
“We have this one game left here at home now against Buffalo, and back on the road for five, so this is a critical point in the year,” coach Terry Murray said. “We have to get on board, and we need somebody to step up and lead the way here.”
Kopitar, who scored in both regulation and the shootout in Saturday’s 4-3 win over Boston, has three goals in his last 15 games. He has no goals in two career games against the Sabres, but he had a career-best four assists in an 8-2 win over them on Dec. 6, 2007, the teams’ last meeting in Los Angeles.