The Buffalo Sabres bring a three-game winning streak, tied for their longest of the season, into a grueling stretch of the schedule.
They’ll play six games in nine days, including three in the next four, beginning on Friday in Winnipeg. The road trip continues on Saturday at Minnesota and Monday at Pittsburgh before the Sabres return home and play another three games in four days.
“When you play 82 games, it’s a long season,” defenseman Jake McCabe said after practice Thursday at KeyBank Center. “You’re going to have bumps and bruises. You’re going to be banged up at times. You’re going to be playing a lot of games in a short amount of time, and guys are playing through injuries every night.
“It’s one of those things where every night is a grind. It’s extremely hard to win in this league, let alone win games in a row. That’s huge. And so we’re going to continue to build on this little win streak we have now. Once you add those games up, it goes a long way towards the end of the year.”
The Winnipeg Jets are 8-2-1 this season at Bell MTS Place, the rink with the league’s smallest capacity and among its loudest environments. The Sabres are just 2-6 there since Winnipeg returned to the NHL in 2011.
The Sabres (10-6-2) have won three consecutive games for the second time this season, which ties the Jets for the third-longest active streak in the NHL. They’re going for their first four-game winning streak since Dec. 9-15, 2014, which happens to have ended with a 5-1 loss at Winnipeg.
Both of the teams with longer winning streaks are Atlantic Division rivals. Florida has won five consecutive games, the longest active run in the league, while Detroit has won four in a row and is 7-1 in its last eight to get to .500 after a 1-7-2 start.
“I think momentum for sure carries over,” forward Casey Mittelstadt said. “You kind of get going and you get on a roll. We’ve become a pretty resilient group. I think guys are sticking together in the room and we realize that we can score and that we’re never out of games. It’s important for us to keep doing that.”
Veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian offered a different perspective.
“I don’t know about momentum, but habits carry from game to game,” Bogosian said. “I think if we’re playing the right way, doing the right things, those things carry over. But every game is different. Every team plays different. But we have a good feeling in this locker room right now and we’ve just got to keep that moving forward.”
The Sabres have spent years struggling to put together consistent efforts, and despite their recent success, haven’t been playing their best hockey.
Buffalo rallied from a late two-goal deficit to defeat the Vancouver Canucks, 4-3, in a shootout on Saturday and topped the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1, on Tuesday despite being outshot 30-19 in the game.
“I think we’ve learned a lot in those last two games on what we need to do better and improve,” coach Phil Housley said, “but it helps to win those games at the same time, even when you’re not at your best, to build confidence that knowing if you do get down, there’s a good chance we can get back into the game.”
Patrik Berglund will return to the lineup against the Jets after being a healthy scratch for the second time this season. The 30-year-old forward, who has two goals and two assists in 16 games, was held out of Tuesday’s 2-1 home victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He also sat out Oct. 18 in San Jose.
Berglund skated on the third line with Vladimír Sobotka and Jason Pominville on Thursday, replacing Evan Rodrigues, and also joined the first power play unit with Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Dahlin.
“We’re just making changes,” Housley said. “Obviously, I don’t think we as a coaching staff or if you asked the players, that we were at our best against Tampa. We’ve changed the lineup before, (after) wins and losses, but I like what Patrik brings. He’s going to get an opportunity (Friday).”
The Sabres have converted 17.7 percent of their power play opportunities this season, good for 18th in the NHL, but have recently struggled. They haven't scored on the power play in four consecutive games, going 0 for 10 in that span. They're 3 for 24 on the power play in eight games since their last three-game winning streak from Oct. 20-25.
Jets powerful power play
The Jets have the NHL’s top power play unit, scoring 34 percent of the time (17 of 50) with the man advantage. That’s far above the league average of 20.5 percent.
Jets forward Patrik Laine is second in the NHL with seven power play goals. He led the league with 20 last season. Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor has each scored four power play goals, tied for seventh in the NHL.
“Number one, try to stay out of the box would be a good idea. But when we have to kill, we have to kill,” Housley said. “We faced a good power play in Tampa, one of the top power plays, and we’ve faced good power plays before. We’ll have our strategies and we’ll have to do our best to execute those strategies.”
The Sabres’ penalty kill percentage (81.8 percent) ranks 11th in the league.
Crosby may miss Sabres game
Sidney Crosby appears unlikely to play against the Sabres on Monday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins superstar remains sidelined by an upper body injury, not a concussion, coach Mike Sullivan told reporters Thursday.
“Right now his status is day-to-day, but my sense is it's going to be a week,” Sullivan said.
Crosby had two assists in the Penguins’ 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. He was on the ice in the final minute and spoke to reporters after the game, but did not practice Wednesday. Crosby skated on his own Thursday, before the team’s morning skate, according to the team’s Twitter account.