The Morning Skate: Points at a preimum in East race

The Sabres last second screw up on Wednesday could end up being the game the team points to if they miss the playoffs by a point or two. Of course, the same was said about their third period meltdown against Nashville last season and the team managed to battle back from that massive letdown.

The fact is, Buffalo is in a tight predicament as the Washington Capitals continue to win games. Last night was an exception, as Winnipeg managed to pull out a 3-2 regulation victory. The win thrust the Jets a point ahead of Buffalo for the time being, but the sole focus of the season is now on the team occupying eighth.

As of now the Sabres need a win this evening in Florida. It would give them 77 points and temporarily place them one point out of eighth. Buffalo will be playing game number two without Tyler Myers and Nathan Gerbe. Missing their defensive skill was tough on the team against Colorado. On the bright side, The Buffalo News reports that Andrej Sekera will return this evening. Hopefully he can play effective minutes as the defensive corps looked thin without him in the lineup.

Highlighted Matchup

Vanek/Hodgson/Leino. Three players in the spotlight for similar but different reasons. Ville Leino has been roasted for not putting up major numbers this season, although he has been playing very good hockey lately. It is rumored that Thomas Vanek has been battling a shoulder injury and his offense has suffered because of it. Cody Hodgson showed some great offensive skills in his first few games, but no goals or assists has moved him from savior to bust with some of the more rational fans in Buffalo. I like the idea of this line, hopefully they instantly click.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

FLA: Jose Theodore

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Panthers 1 OT, First Niagara Center, 12/9/2011

The Morning Skate: Sabres host Avs, minus Myers

Tyler Myers was hit with a three-game Shanaban after giving Scott Gomez a face full of glass on Monday night. Tonight’s visit from the Avalanche will be the first game Myers misses.

The suspension to Myers was warranted and is the appropriate length. What is completely asinine is the fact that the NHL continues their completely inconsistent manner of evaluating supplemental discipline. Evgeni Malkin lowered virtually the same hit on Johnny Boychuk over the weekend and escaped with a minor. Maybe if Tyler Myers was one of the league’s most electrifying players in the middle of the Hart Trophy race he wouldn’t have been suspended either. Is that really a difficult conclusion to come to?

Buffalo will play their first without Myers – 11 points (4+7), +9 since the All-Star break – against a Western Conference foe pushing for a playoff spot of their own. I’d expect to see Brayden McNabb in the lineup for the next three games. He has been playing solid hockey for the Amerks and has the physical edge the Sabres will need for the remaining games this season. Andrej Sekera could be in the lineup, although it seems like a serious longshot. I would count on McNabb stepping in for at least the next three nights.

The Sabres offense has still been struggling to find the back of the net, but they are creating chances. Peter Budaj made 33 saves on Monday and Buffalo has put at least 30 shots on goal in three of their last four. It is time for the Sabres to start capitalizing on their chances, scoring three or four a night will give this team a very real shot at achieving the impossible.

Highlighted Matchup

Cody Hodgson. The newest forward on the team is still finding his way. I’m not sure if it is a conditioning issue, fatigue from playing on a nightly basis, his arrival and subsequent puddle jump across the country and further participation on Buffalo’s west coast trip or just a systematic problem. What I do know is that a number of fans are getting anxious about his potential. It would be nice if he got a few points over the next few games. Despite what the box score says, he hasn’t been all bad.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

COL: Semyon Varlamov

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Avalanche 4 OT, Pepsi Center, 1/4/2011