Wednesday, October 26, 2016

End of a road trip, start of a busy schedule, plus some moves

Published by, 10-25-2016

It's been a good while since the Buffalo Sabres came back from their three-game, western Canada swing and they had so much time between road games (four days) that the team was able to come back to Buffalo to practice before heading to Philadelphia for tonight's bout against the Flyers.

All that time away from the ice is about to end as the team begins a four-game in six-night block of games that ends with back-to-back games afternoon games vs Florida on Saturday and at Winnipeg on Sunday. The Sabres stay in the mid-west to kick off November with a game against Minnesota on the first. From then it's six games in 10 nights, two days off, then six games in 11 nights playing every other day.

Buffalo is still without forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane who are out long-term with injuries. An update on Eichel still had him in a walking boot nearly two weeks after suffering a high-ankle sprain while Kane is just beginning to get some movement after suffering three cracked ribs after crashing hard into the boards in the season opener. Two day, two top-six players gone for weeks.

In their absence the Buffalo has gone 1-2-1 with all their points coming on the road during the first three games of this road trip. With the Sabres scoring six of their 11 goals in one game, head coach Dan Bylsma has scoring concerns and he's trying to address them by moving forward Sam Reinhart to center between speedy jitterbug Tyler Ennis and a hard-driving Zemgus Girgensons.

After Sunday's practice Bylsma mentioned the need for Reinhart to get his feet moving more and the 20 yr. old concurred after practice yesterday. "I think when I'm playing my best I'm moving my feet and I'm taking away time and space on the forecheck from their defenders," Reinhart told the gathered media yesterday. "I think at times when I move to center it helps me do that and if I ever get a chance to go back to wing it I think it benefits my game that much more."

A shift back to the wing may very well be in Reinhart's future but for the present he's spent the last two days at practice with Ennis and Girgensons. The combined stat-line for the three coming into the game tonight is one goal and three assists.

Bylsma did more tinkering the past two days as he moved defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to the second pairing alongside Zach Bogosian in an effort to get him more ice-time. Kulikov ranks third amongst Buffalo d-men behind Rasmus Ristolainen (24:53) and Jake McCabe (20:20.) Most of Kulikov's 20:07 ATOI has come five-on-five (17:45) but he's been getting work with the powerplay units over the last couple of day.

Kulikov went to the ice writhing in pain after a check sent him and his tailbone smashing into the corner of an open bench door.

The big news for Buffalo is back up goaltender Anders Nilsson getting his first start in a Sabres uniform. Starter Robin Lehner is out with an illness so Nilsson gets the call.  Fans in Buffalo (and possibly around the league) were scratching their collective heads at GM Tim Murray's trade for Nilsson. Murray sent a 2017 fifth-rounder to the St. Louis Blues for Nilsson and his career 3.09 goals against average, .900 save percentage and overall 19-22-4 NHL record. However, Nilsson did have a strong training camp.

Goalie Linus Ullmark got the call from Rochester to be Nilsson's back up. Ullmark has been rounding into form for the Amerks after a rough start. In four games he's 3-1-0 with a 2.75 gaa and a .926 sv%. He started out 1-1 giving up four goals in each game on a combined 73 shots (.890 sv%) but since has gone 2-0 allowing only three goals even though he continued to get shelled in net to the tune of 75 shots (.960 sv%.)

Buffalo also recalled forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Casey Nelson from Rochester after the Amerks 3-1 win at Binghamton against the Senators (OTT) Saturday night.

The game tonight is on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m., just a half-hour before Game-1 of an intriguing World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs. Buffalo fans know all about droughts but this one features a Cleveland franchise that hasn't won a World Series since 1948 and Cubs franchise that hasn't done so since 1908. The last Cubs appearance in the fall classic was in 1945.

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