The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Lightning

The road has been kind to the Sabres this season. Buffalo enters the final game of their four-game swing with a 3-0 record. The Sabres are 5-1 on the season.

Buffalo has only played once at home this season, a 4-3 loss to Carolina last Friday. Buffalo’s five other games have been played in other buildings – three on the road, two at neutral sites in Europe. While one of the European games counted as a home contest, it was anything but that. The NHL should adjust their statistics accordingly.

It has been an interesting week for the Sabres considering they have come away with all four points despite playing a sub-par game on Tuesday evening. For as bad as the Sabres were on Tuesday, they were that good on Thursday against the Panthers. Buffalo’s road trip has been buoyed by the play of their stars; Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek have been pivotal in Buffalo’s early success.

The Sabres will be facing a dangerous team that has stumbled out of the gates. Tampa Bay was projected to be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning’s struggled to find the net have been further augmented by Dwayne Roloson’s early. After rolling Carolina 5-1 to open the season, Tampa Bay has been held under three goals in three separate games. However, they have allowed over four, or more, goals in four of their seven games.

Despite their defensive shortcomings, Tampa Bay remains a dangerous opponent. Outside of the usual suspects (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos), the Lightning boast a number of offensive threats such as Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell and Steve Downie (if he isn’t in the box). In fact, the make-up of the Tampa Bay roster is very similar to that of the Sabres. Tampa Bay is a deep team, capable of putting out multiple lines that can generate offense. They are equally lethal from the blue line.

What will ultimately tip the scales in either direction will be the play of the Tampa Bay goaltenders. Roloson, just months removed from a fantastic playoff run, is suddenly showing his age. Backup Mathieu Garon has always been a steady backup, but is typically inconsistent. Garon’s 1.93 GAA and .938 SV% far exceed Roloson’s bloated 5.09 GAA and .858 SV%.

Garon got his first win of the year on Thursday against the Islanders. I would expect Guy Boucher to go back to Garon as he has been the better goaltender early in the year. There is no reason to think Ryan Miller hasn’t warranted another start based on his past two performances. It seems fitting to hold onto Jhonas Enroth until Tuesday night at home.

Highlighted Matchup

Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr vs. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. The Sabres have created a formidable shut down pairing with Myers and Regehr. Even while his offensive game hasn’t been at all-star status, Myers has continued to cultivate the mean streak he found in the playoffs. The pairing will likely be tasked with keeping an eye on Tampa’s top two weapons who have combined for five goals and ten points on the year.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 5 GP, 4-1-0, 1.61 GAA, .950 SV%

TB: Mathieu Garon 4GP, 1-1-1, 1.93 GAA, .938 SV%

2010-11 Season Series

11/20/2010, HSBC Arena, Sabres 1 – Lightning 2

12/18/2010, St. Pete Times Forum, Sabres 1 – Lightning 3

2/8/2011, St. Pete Times Forum, Sabres 7 – Lightning 4

4/5/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 4 – Lightning 2

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