The Sabres are nearing the end of a ridiculous run of games. They certainly can’t exhale yet.
Buffalo will close a stretch of 11 games in 18 days with back-to-back home games. St. Louis will visit KeyBank Center at 1 p.m. Saturday, while the Chicago Blackhawks come to town at 6 p.m. Sunday.
They’re a combined 11-0 in the past 11 games.
The Sabres, meanwhile, have won two straight and three of four. They’ve inched within three points of a wild-card spot.
A pair of losses would mean more than a slip down the standings. Buffalo begins its bye week Monday, then plays three games leading into the March 1 trade deadline. General Manager Tim Murray can make deals during the bye.
“The next two games are going to dictate a lot where we’re going to go the next 25, so it’s a big couple games,” right wing Kyle Okposo said Friday.
The Sabres have yet to string together a long winning streak this season. They know time is running out.
“For a long period of time we’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster with one up and one down, the highs of winning and the lows of tough losses,” coach Dan Bylsma said in HarborCenter. “Now we’re looking at a stretch of winning three of our last four and putting back-to-back wins together. It’s critical and important games for us as we go into the break.”
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Robin Lehner start both games this weekend. The goaltender has skated to the Buffalo crease five straight times. He’s started nine of 10 and 11 of the last 13.
He’s also done well. Since Jan. 21, Lehner is 6-4-1 with a .937 save percentage and two shutouts.
While Anders Nilsson may get the call against the Blues or Blackhawks, Bylsma could rely on Lehner with the knowledge that five days of rest awaits.
“We’ve had a chance to kind of give Robin the net a little bit more in the last two weeks,” Bylsma said. “He’s handled it really well. He’s gotten better and better really over the last few games. He’s been in control, controlled more rebounds and been in control in those tight-in situations.
“We’re going to keep riding that guy going forward. Every one of these games is a huge game for us. We’re going to see Robin in there quite a bit.”
Since delivering a harsh assessment of the Sabres following Sunday’s loss to Vancouver, Lehner is 2-0 with a .969 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average.
“He’s played well since he came out and said that, and it’s definitely good to see,” Okposo said.
When Cody Franson blocked a shot off his foot Feb. 9, he figured he was done for at least a month. The Sabres defenseman is back in just more than a week. Franson practiced fully Friday and is ready to return after missing four games.
“Initially, it sounded like it was going to be four to six weeks, then after the CT scan they thought they could probably shave it down to two or three,” Franson said. “We made it almost seven days. I feel good and ready to go.
“They said it was a weight-bearing area, but as soon as I could handle the pain I could play. We started putting a program together for it, and fortunately my foot responded well.”
Left wing Evander Kane (illness) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (maintenance) didn’t practice but are expected to play. Center Zemgus Girgensons (full body), left wing William Carrier (knee) and center Derek Grant (shoulder) are out.
Grant, hurt during Thursday’s 2-0 win over Colorado, received a position evaluation.
“He’s unlikely at this point in time for the weekend but is feeling a lot better from where he was,” Bylsma said. “Zemgus has skated the last couple days but not able to return to contact. That will probably last through the break. Hopefully, after the break we should be able to see him.”