After picking up an unexpected three points so far this week, the Sabres are feeling good. Fans who want Buffalo to finish 30th are feeling nervous.
The Sabres, who have been in last place since Jan. 18, were three points behind No. 29 Arizona heading into the Coyotes’ game against Colorado on Thursday. The Sabres and Coyotes could fight for position in the standings until the final day of the season.
Ted Nolan has been pleading for the Sabres to play with effort and pride since the opening day of training camp. With a guaranteed shot at Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel on the line, they’re doing it.
“If you’re any kind of competitive soul or competitive spirit, if you don’t get up for any kind of competition, you’re in the wrong line of business,” the coach said. “Do something else. In this line of business, you have to be competitive. Sometimes when you don’t do it, that’s when your stomach turns at nighttime wondering why.
“I’m not surprised with this group. We’re going to stay competitive as long as we can.”
Fans dreaming of a top-two pick in the NHL Draft were hoping the Sabres would fall back. Instead, Buffalo went 1-0-1 against Washington and Boston. New Jersey visits First Niagara Center on Friday, and Sabres fans might not like what they see:
• Devils forward Patrik Elias won’t make the trip because of back spasms. Elias had two goals and four points during the first two games between the clubs.
• New Jersey will use backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid rather than starter Cory Schneider, who will play Saturday against the New York Islanders. Kinkaid is 4-4-3 with a .915 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average. Schneider is 26-25-7 but ranks second in save percentage (.929) and sixth in GAA (2.16).
The Sabres are starting a stretch of three games in four nights. They visit Nashville on Saturday and Dallas on Monday. They’re excited after getting points in consecutive games for only the third time since Dec. 15.
“What you look for all season long is bring your best,” Nolan said. “That’s all you can ask for. I don’t care what walk of life that you’re in, it’s your obligation, it’s your human nature just to give your best effort.
“There’s all kinds of things to play for. The biggest thing is just to play for good old pride.”
Fans looking for a superstar prospect would disagree.
Mark Pysyk has suffered a setback in his recovery from a mystery ailment that hospitalized him last month, according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Pysyk, who collapsed while playing a pickup basketball game Feb. 28, returned to practice last week with the Rochester Americans. The team hoped to have him in the lineup Friday, but instead the defenseman headed to Buffalo on Thursday to see doctors.
“He’s just not feeling well after he skates,” Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy told the Rochester newspaper. “We don’t know if he’s just sick or if it’s something else.
“But in his situation, with the way things happened, we want to be 100 percent sure that he’s OK.”
Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian, who has missed three straight games with a lower-body injury, is expected to sit against the Devils. He might play Saturday.
Patrick Kaleta, who’s been out since Feb. 10 because of knee surgery, could return to the lineup next week.
The Sabres practiced in front of more than 300 students who are participating in the NHL and NHLPA Future Goals program. Future Goals uses hockey to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“It was a lot of fun,” Nolan said. “The kids seemed to really enjoy the practice. For a lot of them, it was probably the first time they’ve seen a professional hockey practice.”