The Anaheim Ducks have played one game in the last 10 days. The Buffalo Sabres have played five games -- yes, five -- in the same period (and they've actually played six in the last 11 days). Which team responds better to the odd schedules could prove to be a major difference tonight in First Niagara Center.
"You talk a lot about playing a team on back-to-back nights and now you're looking at a team that's kind of been stationary for a while," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said today of the Ducks, who have been idle since a 5-1 home loss to Carolina last Friday. "And you might mention the word -- I haven't said it, don't believe it -- but I heard the word 'rusty' yesterday but I'm a little leery of that. I don't think they're going to be rusty. We'd like to come out and make it look that way with how we play."
"The way our season is going, we have to have a jump tonight and be able to respond after this break," said Ducks star Corey Perry. "We've had tough days of practice leading up to this. ... We've been going in the right direction but we have to get some results and positive things out of each game. But as a whole, everything is starting to piece together."
Chad Johnson will start in goal for the Sabres with John Gibson making his ninth straight start for the Ducks. The Sabres will again scratch Marcus Foligno (upper body) and Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy) while Tyler Ennis took the morning skate fully as an extra forward and coach Dan Bylsma is encouraged by his progress enough to think Ennis could play here against Chicago on Saturday.
"He's going to be in practice tomorrow and hopeful that he's headed toward a return on Saturday," Bylsma said.
The Ducks have been one of the biggest enigmas in the NHL, with a league-low 1.9 goals per game and a last-place standing in the Pacific Division just six months after falling a win shy of the Stanley Cup final. Captain Ryan Getzlaf has one goal the entire season -- that in an empty net -- and Perry didn't score over the first 11 games as his team got shut out five times. Perry has rebounded to lead the team with 10 goals.
The Ducks started the season 1-7-2 but are 10-6-3 over their last 19 games and are only three points out of a playoff spot in the tightly-packed Pacific. They're 2-2 in the last four and again slumping offensively with just five goals.
"It's what we're dealt with," Perry said. "You have to go out and try to win games 1-0 and 2-1. We're not a high-scoring team right now. You have to go out and create those opportunities."
"You can see there's a lot of energy, a lot of jump and laughter in the room," said coach Bruce Boudreau, who will be directing his 300th game with the Ducks. "It's not like we're walking around with a stern look on our face holding sticks so tight. But you can see during the course of the game we're trying to be too cute with pucks. ... I've got to believe it's got to break. There's guys that haven't scored here that are used to scoring."
Bylsma said he's not thinking about the Ducks being a frustrated, languishing team.
"Whatever you're talking about I don't see when you're talking about the Ducks," Bylsma said. "I see a good hockey team. I see one of the best lines in the league with Getzlaf and Perry with their size and ability. Speed throughout the lineup."
The Ducks have won the last two meetings in Buffalo and have never won three straight here since joining the NHL in 1993.