Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dan Bylsma keeps lines together for second straight practice

Reprinted with permission from

There's gonna be line juggling. Every coach does it. Much to the consternation of fans in Buffalo, former Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff did it to the point where "the Tinkerer" moniker was added to his name, and most of the time it wasn't added in a positive manner.

It might seem as if new Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma has taken "tinkering" to a whole new level, and in a way, he has. He opened the season vs the Ottawa Senators with five brand new faces up-front and a couple more who saw limited (Sam Reinhart) to moderate (Johan Larsson) ice-time. In fact, the players Buffalo opened up the season with were all new as this is Bylsma's first season as Sabres head coach.

For those of us who've been watching this team over the course of the last season-plus, Bylsma's line combo's left early left many scratching their heads. Thanks to Reinhart's play last game, and that of his line, Bylsma has five of his top-six in place. For now. Bylsma said that if the trio continues to play as well as they did last game, they'll remain together. Prior to Reinhart, Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons had been the third forward joining the pairing of Tyler Ennis and Ryan O'Reilly but they were inconsistent.

The line that Bylsma has had the most difficult time filling out, is the one with Jack Eichel and Evander Kane on it. Reinhart had initially started on the right wing with that duo, but soon gave way to Girgensons then Marcus Foligno. When captain Brian Gionta came back from injury in time for the two-game road trip in Florida last week, he spent both games on that line and is still trying to catch up with them.

That's the biggest problem with Kane and Eichel. They're both so damn fast very few can keep up with them. Ennis can. During a preseason game at Ottawa they formed a scary fast "JET" line. Ennis had the hattie and a four point night while Kane had a goal and Eichel had two assists. Girgensons can too. During the first game of the regular season vs. Ottawa, their north/south, speed game nearly pulled out the victory for the Sabres.

It looks like Jamie McGinn is next up as a line mate for Kane and Eichel. For the second straight practice he's been on their right wing and it looks as if he'll be their for the game tomorrow versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Buffalo fans don't know a lot about McGinn save for his 19 goal season a couple years ago, but he's a real good skater, and a hard worker who doesn't mind doing the dirty work. McGinn also doesn't mind the "bloody nose" areas either. It's an opportunity for McGinn and a situation that looks good for Kane and Eichel as they can shift to overdrive and hit the zone with three instead of waiting for a third to get into the play.

Will they be able to finish? Absolutely. There's too much skill there not to.

So the lines for the last two practices were:

23 Sam Reinhart – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 88 Jamie McGinn
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand/22 Johan Larsson – 82 Marcus Foligno

The interesting part of this lineup lies in the bottom-six as Moulson and Gionta fall to the third line, which is right where they should be. Girgensons, who had a lengthy "conversation" with Bylsma in Florida anchors that line. Bylsma likes Girgensons at center, but it's either the top-line or third line as Eichel is locked in at the No. 2 center slot.

That fourth line seems to be almost there as Deslauriers and Folingno are right where they should be. Although Larsson has not had as productive a start as he's capable of, Legwand looks every bit his age and really should be relegated to spot duty. Deslauriers, Larsson and Foligno have the capacity to be a real pain in the ass as a line while being able to contribute offensively on occasion.

On defense, Zach Bogosian was not at practice and is still recovering from injury, while Cody Franson had a maintenance day because "something just came up." The "something" might have been him watching film of his first five games--zero points and a minus-4 rating. He's played like a third-pairing d-man with nothing special to offer on the powerplay and that's just where he and his d-partner, Mike Weber, just might end up. While Franson's "maintaining," Carlo Colaiacovo is in his spot.

The play of Mark Pysyk and rookie Jake McCabe looks solid to this point. It should be noted that the duo had spent many games as a pairing in Rochester over the course of the last two seasons and were relied upon to anchor the defense for the Amerks. And the cool part about McCabe is that he's a left-hander, something the team needed at this time.

Josh Gorges, who is trying to hold the No. 2 defensive slot opposite Rasmus Ristolainen until Bogosian gets back, has done an admirable job but is more suited to the second pairing.

The defensive pairings:

4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 3 Mark Pysyk
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 6 Mike Weber

In goal, there should be very few complaints about the work of Chad Johnson, who took over top-goalie duties after Robin Lehner went down. The speculative hockey media can rest easy for now as Sabres GM Tim Murray really doesn't need to trade for a starting goalie...yet.

The goalies:

31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen

Tomorrow night the city of Buffalo "welcomes" the Toronto Maple Leafs and the head coach that spurned the Sabres, Mike Babcock. Pretty sure his welcome will be anything but warm at the First Niagara Center.

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