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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Thursday, January 30th (All times Eastern)
Buffalo Sabres (14-30-8) at Phoenix Coyotes (25-18-140), 9 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Phoenix Coyotes may be set to play under a different name next season, but there isn't too much they would change about their most recent effort on the ice.
The Coyotes try to resume their five-game homestand with another victory on Thursday night as they battle the Buffalo Sabres.
The franchise announced on Wednesday that, effective next season, the club will drop Phoenix from its team name in favor of going by the Arizona Coyotes.
The club has carried the Phoenix moniker since arriving from Winnipeg in 1996 but the team hasn't played in Arizona's capital since relocating to the city's northwestern suburbs for the 2003-04 season.
One day prior, the Coyotes bested the Los Angeles Kings by a 3-0 score, getting 30 saves from Thomas Greiss and a pair of goals by defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Phoenix began its homestand by winning for just the fourth time in its last 11 games and is three points behind Vancouver for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
"We played really hard, physical," Greiss said. "We didn't give them much. It should give us confidence for the future."
Shane Doan logged his 500th career assist and Antoine Vermette followed up a hat trick in Sunday's loss to Vancouver with his 19th goal of the season. He has six tallies and two assists over a five-game point streak.
Greiss, meanwhile, was making his first start since getting pulled early versus Anaheim on Jan. 11 and logged his second shutout of the season as well as the third of his career. He earned another outing tonight from coach Dave Tippett and will face Buffalo for the first time.
The backup is 7-3-1 with a 2.00 goals against average and .935 save percentage in 13 games (9 starts) this season.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson had two goals for the Coyotes, who started a five-game homestand with just their fourth victory in 11 games.
It might not be a bad idea to give No. 1 starter Mike Smith another break tonight. Smith was the victim of an unfortunate bounce when these clubs last met in Buffalo on Dec. 23, a 2-1 overtime victory over the Sabres.
In that contest, Buffalo's Mark Pysyk fired a shot from near the right circle 3:47 into the extra session that was initially stopped by Smith, but the puck bounced straight up into the air and was batted down by a Phoenix defender and landed in the back of Smith's pants.
Smith, unaware of the disc wedged in his pants, turned and slid backwards into the net carrying the puck across the goal line for the game-winner.
"If they (the officials) don't see the puck they're supposed to blow the whistle. That didn't happen," said Smith after that game. "I didn't feel it at all. I didn't know what happened. I know the puck went up in the air but I had no idea where it went after that."
Ryan Miller made 36 saves for the Sabres to remain unbeaten in his career versus the Coyotes. He has won all five previous starts with a 0.98 GAA and one shutout.
The Sabres have won seven of their last eight versus the Coyotes overall and have taken their last three trips to the desert by an 11-3 margin.
Miller got Tuesday off after giving up two goals on 33 shots in 3-0 setback to Pittsburgh the previous night and backup Jhonas Enroth made 30 saves in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals.
The setback, the Sabres' seventh in their last eight games, spoiled Philip Varone's first career goal as well as two markers by Cody Hodgson.
Varone lit the lamp for the first time in his fourth NHL game.
"I mean, it's every kid's dream," said the 23-year-old Varone. "I've thought about it a lot ever since I was called up. It took me 27 games to get my first pro goal in the AHL, so this one came a little bit sooner. It's a good weight off the shoulders."
Christian Ehrhoff also scored and both Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis had two assists in defeat as Buffalo sits last in the NHL standings with 36 points.
01/30 10:50:58 ET
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