Tuesday, October 24, 2017

After a big comeback win at Boston, Housley has some lineup tweaks

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-23-2017

With Buffalo down 4-2 headed into the third period against the Boston Bruins, Sabres coach Phil Housley stuck with the lines he'd been using for nearly the entire game and it paid off with constant pressure and a goal from Benoit Pouliot to bring the Sabres to within one goal. The game-tying goal was scored just 10 seconds after the Boston Bruins killed off a minor penalty as the Sabres were transitioning from the powerplay to 5v5.

After an inconsistent first period where the Bruins took a 2-0 lead before extending that to a 3-0 lead less than a minute into the second, Buffalo got it's groove on and for the better part of the final 39+ minutes the Sabres were buzzing all over the ice. Every line was contributing in some fashion with the top two lines contributing three goals. The defense settled in and were instrumental in getting the puck up ice in the transition game. From there the Sabres controlled much of the play. Buffalo outshot Boston 30-18 in the second and third periods combined and outscored them by a 4-2 margin which included three unanswered goals to send the game to overtime, where they won.

Sounds like they finally found some chemistry. Right?

At the morning skate today one would have expected Housley to keep the lines and defense-pairings as is, especially after a win with many positives attached to it. However, word from the rink is that the first-year coach mixed things up today with the forward lines.

According to reports from today's practice, Housley moved Justin Bailey off the Jack Eichel/Evander Kane line and put Kyle Okposo in his place. Bailey was moved to the third line with center Sam Reinhart and Jordan Nolan, who was moved up a notch. Matt Moulson who was on the third line was dropped to the fourth line with Johan Larsson and Seth Griffith. The only line that was kept intact was the Pouliot/Ryan O'Reilly/Jason Pominville line, which scored two 5v5 goals against the Bruins.

Here's what the lines were for the Boston game:


Here's what they were today:


These may not be the final lines for tomorrow night's home game vs. the Detroit Red Wings, but it's kind of curious that Housley would mix things up after a pretty successful game.

Moving Okposo up makes some sense as they really need to get him going. The Sabres only have two right wingers who've proven that they can play in a top-six role and he's one of them. The 29 yr. old has recorded 20+ goals in two of the past four seasons and the other two seasons (18 and 19 goals)were cut short by injuries. Last season was one of them as Okposo scored 19 goals and 45 points in 65 games before being felled by concussions.

The concussion wasn't the only problem Okposo suffered last season and into the off-season as he had an adverse reaction to medication taken for it that landed him in the neurosurgical intensive care unit of Buffalo General Medical Center. It took him all summer to recover although he did play in Da Beauty League with other NHL'ers in his home state of Minnesota in mid-July. Seeing him on the ice was a welcome sight in Sabreland.

But it's taken him a while to get up to game-speed. The Boston game was by far his best of the season and it looks like he's finally back to the player he was before all this happened. It took him five games of ineffective play and an in-game benching in his sixth game (vs. Vancouver) before he came to life in Boston which included a plus-1 rating and ringing the crossbar with less than :30 to play in a 4-4 game.

Should Housley stick with those lines having Okposo with the likes of speedsters Kane and Eichel should open up plenty of ice for him. He's also smart enough and skilled enough to get those two the puck when the opportunity arises.

Unfortunately for Bailey, Okposo moving up means he's moving down.

Bailey has impressed ever since he was called up for the Anaheim game on October 15. He scored in that game and also opened the scoring two games later against Vancouver. His two goals in four games equals the two he scored in 32 games last season and he's added an assist so far while chiming in at a plus-1.

Housley has moved Bailey around the lineup and the 22 yr. old has responded well. For a man his size he has great speed but his biggest developmental hurdle has been his hands and head catching up with his feet. Bailey has come a long way in that department as the play seems to be slowing down for him and he's not losing the puck as much as he did over the course of his two previous pro seasons.

Bailey seems of the mindset right now that no matter where he plays, he wants to have an impact. That's a good thing, and it's something that will help keep him up with the Sabres.

Buffalo's top defensive pairing of Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella remained intact as they should. The duo logged huge minutes for the club and looked as if they're really building something. Jake McCabe and Matt Tennyson skated as a pair again while Taylor Fedun cut in. The bottom pairing was Victor Antipin with Zach Redmond. Fedun had skated with Antipin during the Boston game while Redmond was in the press box.

Housley also made changes to the powerplay units.

Today's top unit at practice was Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Ristolainen and Antipin.

The second unit was  Pominville, Okposo, Kane, Scandella and Tennyson.

The Sabres went 0/2 on the powerplay against Boston bringing their season totals to five goals in 32 opportunities (15.6%.) Interesting to note that Moulson, in addition to being dumped to the fourth line was also removed from the powerplay. The 33 yr. old may have played his best game of the season in Boston but still has zero points and a minus-6 rating.

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