The Western Canada road trip was a rare bright spot for the Buffalo Sabres last season. They're desperately in need of similar success this year.
The Sabres hit the skies for Edmonton Sunday, where they'll open their annual three-game trip Monday night in Rogers Place against the Oilers. The road has not been kind for Buffalo of late, as the Sabres are just 1-6-2 in their last nine games outside of KeyBank Center and have dropped four straight. They went 5-0 on their road during their 10-game winning streak in November.
"It's going to be tough," defenseman Marco Scandella said after Saturday's 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay. "Once our backs are against the wall, we play our best hockey, so we're going to go on the road, simplify it and grind out games. I'm very confident in this group and we're going to go and have a good road trip."
Since the NHL revised the schedule to once again include every road locale in 2013, the Sabres have gone 5-9-1 on this trip. They were just 2-9-1 until their unlikely three-game sweep last season that included shutout victories in both Edmonton and Vancouver. Buffalo was swept in both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
Edmonton standout Connor McDavid turned 22 Sunday but did not participate in the Oilers' public skills competition at Rogers Place because he was ill. There was no immediate word on his status for Monday's visit by the Sabres.
The Sabres will be trying to bounce back from Saturday's frustrating defeat to the league-leading Lightning, which saw Buffalo give up three straight goals in the third period that wiped out a 3-2 lead. They are 6-10-4 in their last 20 games and Saturday's loss dropped them out of an Eastern Conference playoff slot for the first time since early November.
"Every shift and every play matters, especially against good teams," coach Phil Housley said after Saturday's loss. "You have to make the right decisions at the right time, take what the game gives you. You can't force things. Sometimes the play is just get it in deep if you don't have a play. That is the play and you have to live to fight another day. We've just got to go back to work. We've got to fight and keep clawing away. We knew nothing was going to be easy and that's a valuable lesson for our guys."
Here's a quick update on how the three upcoming opponents stand:
Edmonton (9 p.m. EST, Monday): The Oilers are 12-11-2 since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach from Todd McLellan and are two points out of the final wild-card slot in the West. McDavid is fourth in the NHL in scoring with 67 points (27 goals, 40 assists). Leon Draisaitl is also having another big year (23-31-54). Edmonton is 3-3 in January after ending December on a six-game losing streak.
Just a reminder that McDavid is doing this against other fully grown adults playing at the NHL level and that it isn't supposed to look this easy.
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) January 13, 2019
Calgary (9:30 p.m. EST, Wednesday): The Flames crushed Arizona, 7-1, Sunday to win their fifth straight and improve to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. In Bill Peters' first year as coach after coming from Carolina, they have soared to the top of the West on the strength of a 15-4-4 home record and plus-40 overall goal differential. Last year's 2-1 Sabres overtime victory snapped a nine-game losing streak in the Saddledome that dated to 2000. Johnny Gaudreau (27-42-69) moved into second in the NHL in scoring during Sunday's win while Sean Monahan (25-32-57) snapped a tie with Sidney Crosby and cracked the top 10.
Vancouver (10 p.m. EST, Friday): Rookie sensation Elias Pettersson has been out since Jan. 3 with a sprained knee but has resumed skating and it will be interesting to see if he's able to return by the end of the week. In 38 games this season, Pettersson has 22 goals and 42 points. The Canucks blew past Florida, 5-1, Sunday to move into a tie with Minnesota and reeling Anaheim for the West's final wild card. The Ducks fell to 0-7-4 in their last 11 games with an overtime loss in Winnipeg.
Tampa Bay defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was fined $2,403.67, one half his daily cap hit and the maximum allowable under the CBA, for his cross-checking infraction on Sabres center Johan Larsson in the third period of Saturday's game. Sergachev got a double minor for cross-checking on the play while Larsson received a minor for cross-checking.
The Sabres' power play, however, was wiped out 23 seconds later on the controversial elbowing call against Jack Eichel. And 54 seconds after that penalty, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos scored to break the 3-3 tie and send the Lightning on to their 5-3 win.