Sabres’ Linus Omark looking to break out against Oilers; Jhonas Enroth not focused on Olympics
BUFFALO – So far, 11 games into his Sabres career, Linus Omark has been a colossal disappointment, compiling zero goals, two assists and seven healthy scratches for the NHL’s worst team.
But the slick winger will return tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, his old team, after sitting the last three games. The Swede might even skate on the top line.
Clearly, interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan hopes a visit from the Oilers ignites Omark, who played 66 games over parts of three seasons in Edmonton.
Omark smiled Sunday when a reporter asked if he was looking forward to facing Edmonton, which dished him for a conditional sixth-round draft pick Dec. 19.
“I would be lying if I said no,” Omark said following practice inside the First Niagara Center. “Of course, it’s going to be a fun game. I know a lot of guys on the team.”
“It looks like that, but I don’t know,” Omark said about playing on the No. 1 line. “We’ll see (today). If that’s the thing, I’m going to try to play good.”
What does Nolan want to see from the flashy Omark, who turns 27 years old Wednesday?
“We want to see what everybody thought he was capable of doing when he came into this league,” Nolan said. “He’s a highly skilled player. But as we know, skill can only get you so far. It’s the will and determination that’s going to push you further. So we want to see him play with a little more grit combined with that skill set.”
Playing Omark on the fourth line hasn’t worked out well, one reason Nolan has him back beside skill players.
“I think you have to put him with skill people,” Nolan said. “We did it a couple times so far, and so far it hasn’t worked out so well. But maybe this time it will.”
Omark played once with Edmonton in 2013-14. He returned to the organization that drafted him 97th overall in 2007 this season after a year in Switzerland.
“Of course, you want to play,” said Omark, who spent most of this season in the AHL. “But I thought there was a lot of good players (in Edmonton). I understand them. I had a good time.”
The Sabres, losers of eight of the last 10 games, originally had Sunday scheduled as a day off. Of course, Saturday’s 7-1 shellacking from the Avalanche in Denver changed that.
“The one thing I learned a long time ago, you can’t do too much about yesterday, it’s gone,” Nolan said. “But the one thing you can do is learn from it, and today’s a new day. It’s an 82-game schedule. It’s a lot of hockey.
“So you can’t dwell on the losses too much. You take about 10 minutes afterwards and you got to focus on today.”
The Sabres couldn’t build off of Thursday’s 3-2 win in Phoenix.
“The weather got us in really good spirits, and then maybe the snow got us in bad spirits,” Nolan joked. “I don’t know. It wasn’t very good.”
Stafford, out the last four games, will return tonight, he said.
The 28-year-old re-aggravated his upper-body injury Jan. 25 in Columbus. He’s missed eight of the last 13 contests.
“You got to be careful, got to be sure you’re 100 percent ready to go because you don’t want to do it a third time,” Stafford said. “At the same time, too, you never know what can happen.”
Stafford tested himself against 6-foot-8 tough guy John Scott on Sunday.
“It helps your mindset a little bit, puts your mind at ease to get out there and battle against not exactly a small human being, John Scott,” Stafford said. “He was my tester. So if I can do well against him, at least somewhat well, (it’s good). He was kind of throwing me around like a rag doll a little bit.”
Stafford has been playing some of his best hockey in years over the last couple months.
“He’s starting to play the way Drew can play,” Nolan said. “He’s a big, power forward. He’s snapping the puck a little bit with authority. He seems to be finding it lately. Then, all of a sudden, the injury comes back. He looks like he’s ready to go.”
“Zemgus, he’s almost like a natural center ice man,” Nolan said. “He likes to skate. With our injury count right now, it’s a great time to test him in that he’s very comfortable in that position. That’s where he grew up playing. We’ll probably put him in that position, see how he does.”
Backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, a shocking 1-10-5 this season, will start tonight. Enroth relieved Ryan Miller on Saturday, allowing two goals in the final 20 minutes.
Enroth said there’s “just so much I can do” and he can’t worry about his record. He hasn’t won since Oct. 25.
“I just need to prepare myself and get ready,” he said.
Where’s Enroth’s confidence right now?
“I feel fine,” he said.
Enroth, a member of Sweden’s Olympic squad, sported his new pads for the upcoming Sochi Games on Sunday.
He’s not thinking about the Olympics yet, however.
“Right now, I’m just trying to focus on the last couple games here,” Enroth said. “I’m trying to not drift away, if you want to say like that. … We’ll take the Olympic experience when it happens.”
Wingers Marcus Foligno and Ville Leino appeared to be extra forwards Sunday. Foligno said he’s playing tonight, however.