JETS (19-16-5) at SABRES (18-18-4)
TV: CBC, MSG-Buffalo
Last 10: Winnipeg 5-4-1; Buffalo 3-6-1
Season Series: Second of four meetings. The Sabres also hosted the Jets on Nov. 8, and walked away with a wild, 6-5 overtime win on Thomas Vanek's second power-play goal of the game with 25 seconds left in the extra period. The teams combined for a 3-3 tie after just 20 minutes, and Buffalo rallied from deficits of 2-0, 3-1, 4-3 and 5-4 to prevail.
Big Story: Winnipeg took full advantage of its December schedule full of home games to creep into the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings, but began the new year with a stretch that features 14 of their first 19 games on the road. The Jets need to reverse a trend that has seen them outscored 11-3 in losing the first two by four-goal margins, and improve upon a 5-10-4 record away from the MTS Centre.
Jets: This will be Winnipeg's third game in four nights. Friday was an off day for the Jets to lick their wounds after they were blanked 4-0 by the Maple Leafs the previous night. Backup goalie Chris Mason
entered having won each of his previous four starts, but surrendered goals within the first five minutes of each period. Afterward, coach Claude Noel called the team's recent slump "a bump in the road," while captain Andrew Ladd
said the players needed to get a bit upset and channel that anger into positive results.
"We can't be happy with how we've been on the road and how the last two games have gone," Ladd said in the Winnipeg Free Press. "I think when we're at home it's easy to find that excitement and legs. That's a big part of our game, speed both ways. It seems when we get on the road, we stop. We have to find a way to get our excitement back and get our legs going and play 200 feet."
Sabres: Playing on consecutive nights, Buffalo will look to shake off a tough third period Friday in Carolina that resulted in a 4-2 defeat. The Sabres also had an up-and-down night on the injury front, as defenseman Tyler Myers returned to the lineup after missing 19 games with a broken wrist; however, Derek Roy took just three shifts before leaving the game with an upper-body injury and did not return. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville scored to erase one-goal deficits, but Chad LaRose's goal with 11:50 remaining proved decisive.
"It's frustrating," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We work to find that slot area at least 10 times a game. But you know what? They're only really good opportunities if you bury them. Not converting isn't any good."
Who's Hot: Blake Wheeler
's six-game points streak was snapped Thursday, but he still has 5 goals and 5 assists over the Jets' last nine games. … Pominville has goals in two straight and 2 goals and 2 assists over the Sabres' last four games.
Injury Report: Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien
has missed the past five games with a knee injury. Defenseman Derek Meech
(lower body) and forward Bryan Little
(foot) are on injured reserve. … Roy would become the 19th Buffalo player to miss a game this season if he's not in the lineup Saturday. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) is out indefinitely, while defenseman Andrej Sekera (upper body) and forwards Corey Tropp (upper body), Ville Leino (foot), Tyler Ennis (ankle) and Colin Stuart (lower body) are on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: Little, who could return to the Jets' lineup Saturday, had a pair of goals and a game-high seven shots the first time these teams met. … The Sabres failed Friday in a bid to put together back-to-back wins for the first time in 25 games, dating back to a four-game win streak from Nov. 4-11.
Puck Drop: Buffalo is beginning to pick up points at the First Niagara Center, going 4-1-3 in its last eight on home ice. However, Friday's loss in Carolina made it six consecutive road losses after a terrific 10-3-4 start.