CALGARY, Alberta – The last thing the Sabres need right now is to run into a hot opponent. But that’s exactly what they’re getting Thursday night when they meet the Calgary Flames in the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Flames were a surprise playoff team last year and have been a surprise doormat much of this season after a 1-5 start. But they’ve caught fire of late, posting their first three-game winning streak of the season with home wins over Dallas, Boston and San Jose. In fact, they’ve won seven straight at home and haven’t lost here since Oct. 30.
The Flames got full marks for Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Sharks, a game that avenged a 5-2 loss in San Jose last week.
“That was a pretty complete game,” said standout defenseman Mark Giordano. “We had some shifts where we really controlled it in their zone. It’s a good game by our team and we have to keep this confidence and momentum going. Things are going better in terms of us bearing down on our chances and having pucks go in the net.”
A weird Calgary stat? Tuesday’s win was just their fourth in regulation all season as they hold a 6-1 record in overtime. Despite that, they entered Wednesday’s games just four points out of a playoff spot in the Pacific Division.
“The confidence with our team keeps going up,” said Sam Bennett, who was taken fourth overall two spots after Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart at the 2014 draft. “It’s nice we’ve been piling up wins at home lately and we’re feeling very good about ourselves. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Second-year standout Johnny Gaudreau leads the Flames with 26 points in 27 games and three of his nine goals have been OT winners. His center, Sean Monahan, has eight goals and 11 assists. Karri Ramo has started 15 of the last 16 games in goal for Calgary.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma would not reveal his goaltender for the game against the Flames, although it almost certainly has to be Chad Johnson in the wake of Linus Ullmark’s struggles that continued Monday in Vancouver. Jake McCabe’s one-game exile to the press box is probably over as well. Bylsma wouldn’t commit to using the young defenseman but pretty much let his cat out of the bag.
“Jake was fighting the puck and the situations he was in in Edmonton and needed to take a step back,” Bylsma said. “But I also said after the game in Vancouver, ‘Don’t let me sit him out again. We need him back playing the way he can and being in the lineup.’”
Bylsma said he was saddened to hear about the retirement of Pittsburgh winger Pascal Dupuis, who was having side effects while battling blood clots and announced Tuesday he was stepping away from the game.
Dupuis played on Bylsma’s 2009 Stanley Cup team in Pittsburgh and had consecutive 20-goal seasons for the Penguins in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Pascal, his career and what he did as a player,” Bylsma said. “I know he’s been going through a fight the last couple years. I want to congratulate him. It’s disappointing to see he’s retiring but I congratulate him on a great career and having fought through it and been a really good teammate.
“That was my first thought. I know he’s disappointed stepping away from the game and it’s over for him but congratulations on a great career. He did a lot of great things as a player.”