BUFFALO – The clock is ticking loudly again on the Sabres’ lost season. With eight games left, the 11th-place club, which hosts the Montreal Canadiens tonight, is six points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
After three straight wins, the Sabres fell 4-1 Tuesday in Winnipeg. Incredibly, they’re 2-9-2 against the feeble Southeast Division, by far the NHL’s worst group of teams.
The Sabres have beaten the fourth-place Canadiens three of four meetings this season, including their last one, a 2-1 win March 23 in Montreal.
Why do the Sabres play to the level of the opposition so much?
“I don’t really have the answer to that,” interim Sabres coach Ron Rolston said this morning inside the First Niagara Center. “I think every night everyone is capable of winning in the league, and if you don’t have your best effort and guys aren’t going, then you have an opportunity to lose a game, too.”
Weak production from the Sabres’ top two centers isn’t helping their 19th-ranked offense.
Tyler Ennis has zero points in the last five games and just two assists in the last eight contests. Cody Hodgson has only one goal and two points in the last eight games.
“To win in this league, your best players have to be your best players, especially where we’re at in the season and the points that we need,” Rolston said.
Rolston said Ennis needs to start moving his feet.
“When he’s playing well, he’s moving his feet,” Rolston said. “He’s fast. He’s on pucks. That’s what he’s got to get back to.”
Thomas Vanek moved his feet Tuesday during his return from a six-game absence (muscle strain). The slick winger narrowly missed some strong scoring chances.
“I felt fine,” Vanek said. “Obviously, after missing six games, my hands and feet weren’t quite there. But overall I had more chances than I expected going into the game.”
The Sabres will make only lineup change, sitting tough guy John Scott and inserting Luke Adam. Scott had been taking a regular shift with Jochen Hecht and Patrick Kaleta.
Rolston said it’s hard to pull Scott, who played a season-high 9:16 Tuesday.
“But it’s part of the business,” Rolston said. “He’s played really well for us, he has. He’s done everything we’ve asked. (It’s) just giving some other guys an opportunity and just the opponent tonight.”
Goalie Ryan Miller will start his sixth straight game tonight. Backup Jhonas Enroth will get a nod this weekend, Rolston said.