The Morning Skate: Skidding Sabres face red-hot Blues in St. Louis

In late October a road trip would have been welcomed for the Sabres. They were struggling to win on home ice but were beastly on the road, my how the tables have turned.

The current seven-game trip the Sabres have embarked on couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Sabres have lost 11-straight on the road and are in the thick of a tortuous road journey. Buffalo’s road woes have been magnified on this trip through some of the NHL’s toughest home arenas. The Islanders, Detroit, Chicago and Winnipeg dispatched the Sabres by a 19-5 margin over the first four games of the trip. The final three take Buffalo to St. Louis (tonight), Montreal and New Jersey.

Just to rub a little salt in the wounds, the Blues have been playing some of the league’s best hockey of late. Jaroslav Halak is rolling, posting a pair of shutouts in his last two games. Just what a team with scoring woes needs to see.

The Sabres are still thin with injuries and may even have to play Joe Finley as a forward this evening depending on the status of Patrick Kaleta. All things considered, the potential line combinations may force Lindy Ruff to play his scoring lines more. Getting his top players premium ice time is something Ruff has shied away from at times this season. The potential for Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek to see upwards of 20 minutes could be a very good thing.

There aren’t too many keys to victory left for the Sabres. They have all but lost the capacity to get off to a strong start. Considering that, just playing a quality game is the only option left. Buffalo has had some sloppy outings lately and have had many question their effort. Providing a quality effort tonight would go a long way in the eyes of many detractors.

What to Watch For

Thomas Vanek. Vanek has fallen off a bit. He has only two points (1+1) in his last ten games. I’m certain the numerous ailments he has suffered over the past few weeks have plenty to do with the drop in his production. The All-Star break will do wonders for him. He and Pominville have been the only consistent contributors this season, Vanek needs to re-capture his hold as the team’s best player.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller vs. STL: Jaroslav Halak

Last Game

Sabres 0 – Blues 3, HSBC Arena, 2/18/2011

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