The Buffalo Sabres got to do something Sunday they haven't done all season. They took their clothes out of their suitcases, put the empty luggage in the closet and didn't have to worry about filling the bags back up.
They're finally home for a while.
"Finally is right," center Luke Adam said. "It seems like we haven't played a home game yet. We've been at home probably four days all season. It'll be nice to get home and be in front of the home fans."
The Sabres will get to see what life is like in Western New York after a whirlwind start to the year. After a busy preseason that featured five games in seven nights, a weeklong trip to Europe to start the regular season and a six-day swing through Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay, the Sabres are settling in for a five-game home stretch.
The Sabres and First Niagara Center will welcome the Lightning on Tuesday, Columbus on Thursday and the Panthers on Saturday. Philadelphia comes to town Nov. 2, and Calgary visits Nov. 4. The Sabres don't hit the road again until a Nov. 5 game in Ottawa, giving them 13 days in Buffalo.
"It'll be nice to get home and have a little bit of a home stretch," captain Jason Pominville said. "Play better at home, hopefully, because I don't think our first outing was the way we wanted to play."
The Sabres' only game in Buffalo was their worst of the year. They were sloppy and disjointed in a 4-3 loss to Carolina on Oct. 14. Since then, they've gone 3-1 to improve their record to 5-2.
"Our fans got to see us play Carolina, and that's not an indication of how we've been playing," goaltender Ryan Miller said. "We're better than that game. We have to establish ourselves and be a really hard-working team at home.
"Just to get ourselves established at home would be nice. It's been a little bit of a whirlwind to start the season. I thought we did well on the road to start, to set the tone. We've just got to bring a hard-nosed game back home."
The Sabres come back to town as a team that's hard to score against. They're allowing just 1.86 goals per game, third in the NHL entering Sunday's schedule. Their penalty killing has also been among the best, with their 90.9 percent success rate ranking fourth.
The offense hasn't been bad, either. Led by Thomas Vanek's 10-point start and Pominville's nine points, the Sabres rank 10th in the league at 2.86 goals per game. The power play has had its moments, connecting 18.2 percent of the time to rank 12th.
It faltered during Saturday's 3-0 loss in Tampa, however, going 0 for 3 including two attempts during the third period. The Sabres were missing left wing Tyler Ennis, who suffered an ankle injury in the opening minutes. His status will be updated today.
"We didn't do a very good job on entries into the zone," center Ville Leino said. "We've got to be a little smarter there."
The loss to the Lightning spoiled an otherwise perfect road swing. The Sabres took six of a possible eight points, beating Pittsburgh, Montreal and Florida.
"We're happy about it, but we want more," Pominville said. "We want to push each other to be better. I don't think [Saturday] was good enough in areas where we usually do a good job. It cost us points. We're back against them at home, so we'll have to make adjustments and be better."
One of the biggest adjustments will simply be being home.
"We've got to go home and play well, which is important," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've worked hard on the road here. We've put together a pretty good stretch. Now it's get our feet back on the ground and worry about improving."