Saturday, September 30, 2017

Some spots are set, other are not as Sabres finish preseason tonight

Published by, 9-29-2017

Say what you will about the final results in each game, but Sabres fans who've been watching this team the past two seasons are seeing a far different product on the ice this preseason. In a "release-the-hounds!!!" approach to the Buffalo game-plan, new coach Phil Housley has his team skating fast and skating hard as evidenced by the last game played against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins have speed to burn and their head coach has had them rippin' up and down the ice ever since he took over in December, 2015. It's a result that speaks for itself in the two Cups as well as a change in overall philosophy in the NHL as teams imitate what went on in Pittsburgh. Buffalo is lucky to have a GM in Jason Botterill that came from the Penguins and a coach in Housley who's philosophy is and always has been, whether playing the game or coaching as an assistant in Nashville, everyone attack with speed.

The Sabres are going through a period of adjustment right now and will be doing so for weeks to come. After the 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh where the Sabres scored two goals in the final minute with the goalie pulled, Housley said that there were "a lot of things to be positive about."

"I thought we took a big step forward tonight, " the coach said to the gathered media post-game. "I think this is the fastest we've looked. We were breaking out of our own end really well with five guys down low and then [transitioning to] the attack.

"The things that we can correct, the technical things, are things we can correct. We can build off of this moving forward."

The season begins less than one week from now and by the looks of today's morning skate, we can be sure of a few things moving forward with the players up-front.

Buffalo's top-six seems to be set for the opener. Forward Zemgus Girgensons was given first crack at skating on the left side with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo and he ran with it. "The Latvian Locomotive" looked the part as his compete and drive drew some nice compliments from Housley during the past few weeks. Hitting Victor Antipin with a pass while the defenseman was joining the rush certainly didn't hurt either as that's exactly what Housley wants to see from his team.

It would seem as if Sam Reinhart will start the season at center on the third line leaving Jack Eichel to center left winger Evander Kane and RW, Jason Pominville. The 34 year old Pominville will need every ounce of his veteran savvy to keep up with Eichel and Kane who's wheels can match or better much of the NHL. Kane looks rejuvenated with Housley calling him "a terrific pro." The coach also said of Kane, "He comes to work and he's had a terrific attitude, working hard in practices and he's trying to get himself ready. I respect his work ethic."

Reinhart has had some difficulties going back to the position he was drafted for--center. Housley told the gathered media today after the morning skate that they’ve been "trying Sam in every game to give him some familiarity and get comfortable with it and it’s been a work in progress.”

It looks as if they'll keep Reinhart there at least to start the season.

As for the rest of the forward group, some NHL jobs are on the line.

Nicolas Baptiste was assigned to Rochester yesterday and although Nicholas Deslauriers had a strong game against the Penguins, the Sabres claimed veteran bottom-six forward Jordan Nolan off of waivers from the LA Kings. Nolan, son of former Sabres head coach Ted Nolan, is a two-time Stanley Cup Champ who plays a rugged game and can serve as enforcer while holding down a spot in the forward group.

If the morning skate lines hold true, forward Seth Griffith will get one final shot to make the big club. An injury to Evan Rodrigues and Reinhart's move to center has opened up spots in the forward group and there's some pretty good competition there. Griffith has excelled at the AHL-level but as of yet has been unable to transfer that to the NHL.

Matt Moulson will be joining Griffith on Reinhart's wings and he continues to try and find an even-strength home. At $5 million/season for the next two years, odds are that he'll be in the lineup this season with expected contributions on the second-unit powerplay.

Jacob Josefson is slated to center the fourth line tonight with Nolan on the right and Johan Larsson on the left. Josefson, a former first round pick, is battling for a spot in the top-12 forward group and his shootout prowess may keep him there. As for Larsson, Housley has been playing him all over the bottom-six.

On defense, Marco Scandella looks to be out of the lineup again as the team is not pushing it with him after off season hip surgery. Nathan Beaulieu and Zach Bogosian seems to be a pairing that Housley's comfortable with while Josh Gorges is battling for a spot in the top six.

Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun and Matt Tennyson all seem headed to Rochester after tonight while Cody Golobeuf, Buffalo's only player on a pro tryout may end up with the Amerks as well. Antipin looks to be getting a shot with Rasmus Ristolainen tonight on the top pair.

Puck drop is at 7 p.m at KeyBank Center.

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