Thursday, November 17, 2016

Injuries equal tough sledding, a change of style and opportunity

Published by, 11-15-2016

The Buffalo Sabres have three games on tap in the next five days--at the St. Louis Blues tonight, vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins on Satrurday. All three teams have a better record than the Sabres and all represent a pretty big challenge for an injury-depleted Buffalo roster.

The injury list for the Sabres for tonight's game:

C-Jack Eichel--out all season
D-Zach Bogosian--out tonight (seventh consecutive)--nine games played
F-Tyler Ennis--out tonight (fourth consecutive)--12 games played
D-Dmitry Kulikov--out tonight (third consecutive)--12 games played
C- Ryan O'Reilly--out tonight--13 games played

Add it all up and the Sabres head into Scottrade Center tonight missing their top-two centers, two two-four defensemen and a top-nine forward. We might want to add in that Buffalo is 2-7-1 in their last 10 vs. the Blues, 1-5-4 in St. Louis and that Buffalo is winless in their last four (0-2-2) and are 2-3-2 so far in the month of November.

Kinda makes for a pretty tall order.

Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma was on WGR550 this morning and after telling the hosts about having to basically keep O'Reilly from playing so that a lingering injury can properly heal, host Howard Simon asked just how much of an adjustment it is to play without Eichel and O'Reilly. "It's a big adjustment," said Bylsma, "to have those types of guys out of our lineup. They do so much, they provide so much.

"You can't ask the players--the Derek Grant's of the world and the [Johan] Larsson's of the world--to play differently and be different. They can't be Jack, they can't be Ryan so we're going to have to play like a third and fourth-line team to grind out plays to have success and grind out victories."

Simply put, without Eichel and O'Reilly, the Sabres don't have the horses to play the style of game Bylsma has geared his system to.

For those watching the games this month, Buffalo has scored nine goals and given up 15 in seven November games. No wonder fans are filing out of the KeyBank Center early. It's classic, grind-it-out defensive hockey similar to what former Ted Nolan once did, but without the supreme on-ice motivation the former coach provided.

Although nobody in the organization will make excuses, missing four of your top-10 skaters does bring down the talent-level and although some teams have made do without players of that ilk, the young Sabres (third-youngest team in the league according to,) have a good chunk of their skilled-players still in developmental leagues.

That said, those injured players must be replaced somebody and Amerks players have a golden opportunity in front of them to make an impression.

Forward William Carrier has done that. The 21 yr. old rookie got the call five games ago and worked his way up the ladder to the point where he may be skating on the top line tonight with Sam Reinhart at center and Kyle Okposo at right wing. Carrier was originally drafted by the Blues in the second round (57th-overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and was a part of the Ryan Miller to St. Louis trade February 28, 2014.

Although Carrier has yet to hit the score sheet, Bylsma had nothing but great things to say about him. "Will has played extremely, extremely well, been really effective," he said to the gathered media. "Speed, he's been really physical, and he has gotten in the mix on offensive chances … Whether he plays on a line with Sam and Kyle or he's playing on the fourth line or playing on the third line, which he did for two of the games, he needs to continue to play that way."

Another 2013 draft pick is winger Nicolas Baptiste. The 21 yr. old was drafted 69th overall that year by the Sabres and will be appearing in his 11th game for the club this season. Baptiste is another speedy winger who has good size but he also has definitive sniping abilities. After being returned to Rochester following a back-to-back for Buffalo against the New Jersey Devils, Baptiste played a third game in a row on Sunday at Springfield, MA and recorded two goals and an assist against the Thunderbirds (FLA.) He is on his third recall for the Sabres and has scored two goals so far for Buffalo in 10 previous games.

Journeyman defenseman Justin Falk got the call from Buffalo as well to replace the injured Kulikov. Falk has plenty of NHL experience and his gritty, defensive style of play seems to fit well with the grinding style of play Bylsma wants his team to play.

Forward Evan Rodrigues was also called up for the St. Louis game. It's his first recall of the season, second of his career. Late last season Rodrigues got a shot and had a goal and an assist in two games for Buffalo while finishing a plus-2 in those games. Rodrigues finished strong in Rochester late last season and is off to a solid start for the Amerks so far this season with three goals and five assists in 13 games.

According to WGR's Paul Hamilton, the Sabres first powerplay unit at the morning skate had Matt Moulson (tied for second in the league with five PP goals,) Reinhart, Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe while the second unit had captain Brian Gionta, Johan Larsson (with Baptiste working in,) Evander Kane, Cody Franson and rookie Casey Nelson.

Game time is 8 p.m. ET tonight.

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