Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-07-2016
Thanks to the World Cup of Hockey the NHL regular season has been pushed back about a week as the NHL reignited international competition. Whereas last year the league was starting the season on this date, today is the beginning of the final weekend of preseason action before the regular season commences on Wednesday, October 11th.
The Buffalo Sabres finish up their seven-game preseason schedule tonight with a trip to Ottawa to face the rival Senators. Ottawa cut it's roster to 25 players so the team on the ice tonight is pretty much the team we'll be seeing to start the season. Buffalo, on the other hand, is anything but that. Heading into the 7 p.m. matchup tonight the Sabres will be without the services of C, Ryan O'Reilly, RW, Kyle Okposo and defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov who are all nursing various injuries. Buffalo's top defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, is still without a contract and despite skating with the team, is not allowed to play in any games for the club.
The loss of five players for tonight's game means that the team will be giving an extended look to roster hopefuls. The projected lines for tonight, via the Sabres' Jourdon LaBarber, are:
Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Alexander Nylander-Zemgus Girgensons-Hudson Fasching
Tyler Ennis-Johan Larsson-Marcus Foligno
Nicolas Deslauriers-Derek Grant-Brian Gionta
Brendan Guhle-Jake McCabe
Josh Gorges-Casey Nelson
Justin Falk-Cody Franson
In goal will be Robin Lehner who will be tuning up for next week's opener vs. the Montreal Canadians on October 13th.
Some have said the preseason is too long, but for players like Nelson and Grant, and extended look coupled with a strong performance could be the difference between them making the team or being sent to Rochester.
As has been chronicled throughout the preseason, Grant has been mentioned favorably by head coach Dan Bylsma after nearly every game he's played in. The 6'3" 202 lb. center has had an impact in the top-six and has played equally as well in the bottom-six. Even with the return of O'Reilly and Okposo, Grant has done enough to stick with the club when all's said and done and he has the added dimension of having a vet like Gionta on his line to make him better.
On the back-end, Nelson has been his usual calm, cool and collected self this preseason and it's earned him his fourth game in a row. Although he's a tad undersized, Nelson was able to hold his own in the NHL during his seven-game stint last season and looked the part of at least of an eventual top-six defenseman.
Unlike the NFL where teams rest or limit their starters to avoid injury, the final preseason NHL game is usually a tune-up for the regular season. For the Sabres heading into tonight that won't be the case because of the injuries to five significant players. However, one line that will probably start the year together is Kane/Eichel/Reinhart. Bylsma usually likes to pair forwards then add a third on a line and last season the Eichel/Reinhart duo worked plenty of magic. Kane adds a physical north/south dimension to that line and on paper it seems like a good fit.
As for the other three lines, without O'Reilly and Okposo as well as with question marks surrounding Ennis recovering from his injury and with Matt Moulson and Girgensons looking to come back from poor seasons, let's just say they're works in progress.
So, hang in their, Sabres fans, the season is right around the corner.