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Sabres coach Phil Housley: 'We have to start getting our head and mind right'

Buffalo Sabres coach Phil Housley had a few choice words for his team during their morning practice Wednesday at HarborCenter.

They weren't kind, and included an obscenity. Housley admonished his team for its sluggish pace during drills, as the Sabres prepared to host the upstart Montreal Canadiens at 7 p.m. Thursday at KeyBank Center.

“We just started a little slow in practice, that’s all,” Housley said. “We had a skills day (Tuesday) and now we have to start getting our head and mind right. We’re playing a really good Montreal team tomorrow, they’re a very fast team, and I just wanted us to push the pace a little more.”

The Sabres are aware of how important it is to regain their legs after a five-game, nine-day road trip.

“We need to pick up our pace, especially with a team that’s coming into our building that’s playing some really good hockey tomorrow night,” Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe said. “They play a really fast game and we have to be ready for them, at the drop of the puck.”

The Sabres return home Thursday to face the Canadiens, who are the surprise team of the NHL so far. Montreal is 5-1-2 and tied for a three-way lead in the Atlantic Division with 12 points.

The Sabres will get some reprieve, as the Canadiens announced Wednesday that Antti Niemi will start Thursday in Buffalo, in place of Carey Price. Price earned his 289th win Tuesday against Calgary, tying Patrick Roy for second all-time among Canadiens goalies for wins. Jacques Plante leads the Canadiens all-time in wins (314).

The Canadiens announced Niemi as their starter as the Sabres wrapped up media availability Wednesday at KeyBank Center.

“They play a really fast game,” Sabres captain Jack Eichel said. “We’ve got to be ready to skate. We’ve got to be ready to get to the net.”

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Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu practiced Wednesday, and Housley answered in the affirmative when asked if Beaulieu is healthy enough to play Thursday.

Beaulieu was hit by a shot Thursday in a 5-1 loss at San Jose, and did not play Saturday in a 5-1 win at Los Angeles or Sunday in a 4-2 win at Anaheim.

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Here are lines and defensive pairings from Wednesday’s practice:

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