The first bit of big news out of HSBC Arena this morning emerged after the Sabres optional skate and comes courtesy of Raleigh News & Observer beat writer Chip Alexander: Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has been sent home with an upper-body injury and will not play tonight for the first time since Dec. 12.
That's obviously a huge loss for the Hurricanes because Ward had been red-hot in January -- going 9-5 with a 2.02 GAA and .939 save percentage. That means Manny Legace starts in goal tonight. In addition to Ward's play, Eric Staal has been on fire since being named captain a couple of weeks ago. He has nine goals in the eight games since. (12:15 update: Coach Paul Maurice just told us Ward stiffened up on the flight here to Calgary and Alexander speculates the goalie's back could be bothering him again).
The Canes, of course, are a major seller because their 5-17-5 start buried them and they're still last in the East. Ray Whitney is one of the big names talked about (Sabres fans are very interested) while defenseman Niclas Wallin is still here although he's rumored to be heading to San Jose literally at any moment.
Meanwhile, Lindy Ruff said he'll decide on his lineup during tonight's warmup. Ryan Miller will be in goal (look for Patrick Lalime Saturday in Columbus) but no word on whether Andrej Sekera gets another game or if a forward gets scratched.
The Sabres' Northeast Division lead over Ottawa is down to one point after the Sens won their 11th straight last night over Vancouver. Buffalo still has three games in hand.
"You win that number of games in a row, you're going to move up in the standings," Ruff said. "We can only worry about what we're doing and we're playing right around .500. For us, we've got to start playing at a .750 clip and winning three out of four. We've got games in hand and we have to take care of our own business."
Quibble here: The Sabres are hardly playing .500 hockey. They're 2-5-1 in their last eight games and only slightly better in their last 12 (4-5-3).
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