The Morning Skate: Western swing heads north to San Jose

The Buffalo Sabres unlikely push for a playoff spot continues to get tougher. While the Sabres are doing their part – 8-3-3 since the All-Star break – they continue to see formidable opponents on a nightly basis.

After dispatching the surging Ducks last night, Buffalo is back against another Western Conference foe tonight in San Jose. The Sabres follow tonight’s game with a Saturday showdown with Vancouver, Monday’s game against Winnipeg and another set of Wednesday/Thursday back-to-back games next week.

The Sabres are in need of every point available but are in the midst of a stretch that sees them play six games in nine nights. Their last regulation loss came against Philadelphia, also the last game in which Jhonas Enroth started. The rookie was hardly to blame for the loss, but the Sabres need a greater contribution from him if they hope to continue this surge.

Despite Ryan Miller’s shutout last night, I would start Enroth today. The Canucks offer no more relief than the Sharks do and Enroth will likely be called upon next week against either the Hurricanes (Wednesday) or the Bruins (Thursday). Knowing how Lindy Ruff operates, Miller will be in net tonight. I would say it is the wrong move, get him some rest now. Miller played the last set of back-to-back games and needs to maintain this tremendous stretch of hockey he is playing.

Lindy Ruff needs to find the faith that Enroth instilled in him last season and early this year. Enroth is capable of being a 2A goalie at the minimum in the NHL. Now it is on Ruff to stick with his schedule and let Enroth be that player.

The Sabres face a strong Sharks squad that just had one of their young stars traded from the lineup in hopes of finding a little more grit and pugnacity for their own playoff push. San Jose is a deep roster with strong goaltending. The Sabres saw backup Antero Niittymaki last season, expect to see Antti Niemi tonight. His game is about blocking and simply getting in the way. For some reason the Sabres struggle with these goaltenders.

Highlighted Matchup

Lindy Ruff vs. Joe Thornton & Co. Buffalo no longer has a formidable shutdown line to match their opponents’ studs. I find it hard to believe that Ville Leino, Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta are even Ruff’s second choice for a proper checking line. I would think that Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera will be the primary duo tasked with matching San Jose’s top line.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

SJ: Antti Niemi

Last Meeting:

Sabres 3 – Sharks 0, HP Pavilion, 1/6/2011

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