OTTAWA -- Paul Byron could probably stand outside HSBC Arena in his Sabres sweater and not get more than a handful of looks, but he was the main guy in Scotiabank Place this morning. Sixteen media members with cameras and recorders surrounded the babyfaced center, who will play his second NHL game tonight in his hometown. He's expecting 40 to 50 friends and family members to watch the Senators host the Sabres.
"I’m excited for tonight," said the Ottawa native who played junior hockey across the river in Gatineau, Quebec. "I’ve got tons of supporters, I’ve got lots of great friends and family, so they’re all going to be out there for me. This kind of feels like my first game. I didn’t have anyone out there on Long Island [on Sunday]. Everyone kind of waited for me to be here, so I’m a little nervous.
"It’s very special. My parents don’t have American passports, so it’s incredible to be able to play my second game in front of them."
Byron will center left wing Tyler Ennis and right wing Drew Stafford, who is back after a three-game absence because of a groin strain.
"It feels good, I’m ready to go," Stafford said. "It’s been a good week of rehab, and I'm feeling pretty good about things. Yesterday was a big test, and I felt pretty good."
The 10th-place Sabres will play while the eighth-place Thrashers are idle. Atlanta has played 51 games and Buffalo 48, and a victory will allow Buffalo to close within four points of the final playoff spot.
"We’ve got a few games in hand on the eighth-place team, and it’s a game in hand we’re playing," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We need to move up."
The Sens have won just once in their past 12 games (1-8-3), but the Sabres insist they won't take them for granted.
"This league’s so close that any given game a team can get hot and start playing well," Stafford said. "It doesn’t really matter where the teams are in the standings or what their record is over games in the past. The game tonight is all that matters. They’re looking for points just like we’re looking for points."