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Two races on display as Sabres meet Flames to open Western roadie

CALGARY, Alberta -- There are two races on display Tuesday night in the Saddledome. The Calgary Flames are in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Buffalo Sabres are mired in the McEichel Derby.

(Eastern time zone reminder: Warmups start at 8:30, faceoff is at 9:05)

The goals are divergent. The Flames, picked near the bottom of the league in preseason, are one of the big surprises as they have a one-point lead over defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles in the race for the last Western Conference wild-card. The Sabres, meanwhile, have lost a franchise-record 11 straight games in regulation and could fall deeper into 30th place tonight as Edmonton plays its game at home against Minnesota.

Calgary is opening a stretch of 10 of its next 12 games at home while the Sabres are starting a four-game roadie.

"We're in the picture. It's up to us. We control our own destiny," said Flames coach Bob Hartley. "It's up to us to have fun with it. Let's not add any pressure. From the start, if you're an NHL player or coach, you're paid to be in the playoffs. Once you get in the playoffs, you have a shot at the Stanley Cup. It should be a positive experience. It should be fun."

Sabres coach Ted Nolan said the week off has been good for his team but acknowledged the pressure bubble from the losing streak still lingers.

"Sometimes when you're in the storm, you don't see where you're heading," Nolan said. "When you step back, refocus and re-energize yourself, you see what the ultimate goal is. You look at the Chicago Blackhawks. They didn't become the Chicago Blackhawks overnight. They has a lot of miserable years in order to get where they are. Pittsburgh did the same thing. We're going through that rebuild phase and we're going to hit some nasty storms."

Nolan is banking on the return of captain Brian Gionta to be a key for the Sabres, both on the bench and in the locker room as well as on the ice.

"We certainly missed that mentor, that calming factor," Nolan said. "He's been through a lot in his career and knows how to handle situations. His presence is very valuable. I don't know what kind of analytics we can do for that but the personal touch he adds to it, you can't measure on statistics but you sure measure on presence."

Nolan said the Sabres are expecting Nikita Zadorov to arrive in Calgary later Tuesday afternoon and to make the trip to Edmonton with the team. Nolan said no decision has been made about Zadorov's status for Thursday's game against the Oilers. Zadorov was bumped off an oversold flight back from a quick vacation to the Dominican Republic and did not make it to Buffalo, thus earning a suspension from the team.

"We all know 19-year-olds," Nolan said. "Sometimes maybe we could have gotten more involved, gotten in touch with him, when were his travel plans ... You can't put the blame on a 19-year-old kid sometiems. We've got to take a little bit of responsibility also."

Jhonas Enroth will play in goal tonight. Nolan would not formally announce his scratch on defense. Andre Benoit was the last off the ice but Andrej Meszaros was rotating in pregame drills.

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