By Mike Harrington
A mostly quiet morning in First Niagara Center in advance of tonight's Sabres-Devils game (Reminder: It's been moved to 7:30 and will be televised on NBC Sports Network). The Sabres skated for about 30 minutes while only a few Devils stopped by since they played last night against Toronto in the Prudential Center.
Ryan Miller will be in goal tonight against Martin Brodeur. Thomas Vanek is out again and did not take the morning skate but interim coach Ron Rolston said that was a scheduled day off and Vanek will return to practice Monday.
This will be the sixth straight game Vanek has missed with what the team is calling an upper-body muscle strain. Rolston said he continues to target Tuesday's game in Winnipeg as Vanek's return date. We'll see.
The Sabres have won two straight and are 5-2-2 in their last nine games but start the day 12th in the Eastern Conference with 36 points, sixth back of the eighth-place Islanders but with a game in hand. According to Sportsclubstats.com's calculations, they need to earn 16 of the 20 points they have left on the table to just have a roughly 50-50 shot at the postseason.
"Same story. Focused on the game in front of us, like a lot of teams are doing that in our situation where they've got to get points out of every game to make the playoffs,' said Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston. "New Jersey is one of those teams and we're one of those teams right now. We're focused on that and we're focused on having to play a certain way to be successful."
Miller is making his fourth straight start. He's 2-1 in his last three with a 1.69 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in those three.
The Devils, meanwhile, are really struggling. The defending Eastern Conference champions slipped to 10th in the East with Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Leafs. They've gone 0-3-3 since Ilya Kovalchuk went down with a shoulder injury and have lost their last three in regulation, scoring just two goals in them.
Brodeur has played all six games in the current slump and posted a 2.45 GAA but only a save percentage of .888
"Now I think it’s desperation," Brodeur said after Saturday's loss. "Every team around us (the Islanders, Rangers and Jets) won. We can’t afford to lose too many more games."
To hear Rolston talk about the Sabres' desperation, the chance for young players to get greater roles and for a veteran like Jochen Hecht to grab a consistent role, click the audio file below.
taggedNew Jersey Devils | Ron Rolston