Monday, October 2, 2017

What to make of the Sabres line shakeups at practice today.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-1-2017


The Buffalo Sabres finished preseason with a 1-4-1 record. They scored 12 goals and allowed 20 against. Not the greatest numbers even if you factor in that the fact that there's a new coach, new system, some new faces and a huge chunk of players who won't be seeing NHL ice again this year.

Buffalo coach Phil Housley went into training camp trying to find some chemistry and used various forwards playing in different spots on different lines. The only definitives up-front came in the top-six with Ryan O'Reilly once again centering RW, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane on C, Jack Eichel's left wing and Housley's insistence on forward Sam Reinhart moving back to the middle. Reinhart had spent most of his two-year career playing on Eichel's right wing.

Housley's designs up-front have changed as he tries to find the right chemistry between linemates, some worked real well for a time but fizzled while others didn't seem to mesh much at all. When he placed Zemgus Girgensons on the O'Reilly/Okposo line, they were a force but their play as a line dropped off. Same with Jason Pominville on the Eichel/Kane line.

In the Sabres final preseason game Girgensons and Pominville began the night in those spots but were moved off their respective lines in the third period. Both ended up on the third line with Reinhart as their center. Matt Moulson was given a shot next on O'Reilly's left wing while Seth Griffith joined Eichel and Kane with the latter trio making some serious waves in the third.

Jourdon LaBarber reported from today's practice that Buffalo hs a slightly different top-nine from the way they finished Friday night vs. the NY Islanders:

Benoit Pouliot-O'Reilly-Okposo
Kane-Eichel-Griffith
Girgensons-Reinhart-Pominville

It's a top-nine that makes a lot of sense at this time, especially if Housley is hell bent upon keeping Reinhart at center.

Sabres GM Jason Botterill signed Pouliot in the off season as a reclamation project. The 30 yr. old former first round draft pick (4th-overall, MIN) is coming off a season in Edmonton that was labeled as "horrendous" with his play being called "beyond awful." The Oilers bought out the remainder of his two-year contract at an AAV of $4 million and Botterill brought him aboard.

If these lines hold true for the opener, it represents a golden opportunity for Pouliot to revive his career. Fact is, O'Reilly and Okposo have such great chemistry that all the other winger needs to do is play off of them and/or get them puck and barrel towards the net. "I think he's a guy who can play anywhere in that two, three, four hole," said Botterill of the Pouliot signing. "It's going to be a matter of how he comes in and how he performs. You look at his size and his ability to get on the forecheck, we just think he's a guy that could complement our centers well and be a guy who can sort of get his career back on track.

"If you look at Benoit's history, in situations where he's had a difficult season he's been able to bounce back strong. That's what we're looking for from him coming into Buffalo here."

Girgensons had a shot and looked great in the first couple of games with O'Reilly and Okposo but fizzled out by the final preseason game. "The Latvian Locomotive" still has a lot to give and could be a great forechecking force for Reinhart and Pominville, while the 34 yr. old Pominville will be able to use his veteran savvy to not only find open space, but to also mentor Reinhart on the finer points of playing in the NHL.

If ever there was an opportunity for Griffith to finally transfer the scoring prowess he enjoyed in the AHL to the big leagues, now's the time.

Housley praised Griffith's play on the third line against the Islanders and gave him a shot with Eichel and Kane. The trio, all of whom possess speed, worked the offensive zone as if they'd been together for a while. Although they weren't able to capitalize they hit the zone with speed and did some nice cycling to the point where eventually they'll start producing.

The 24 yr. old Griffith had a 77 point season with the AHL's  Providence Bruins (BOS) in 2015-16 but hasn't been able to do much at the NHL-level. In 58 career games Griffith has only 16 points (6+10.)

With Reinhart occupying the third-line center spot, Johan Larsson got bumped down to the fourth line and with veteran Jacob Josefson looking as if he'll center that line, Larsson's been pushed out to the wing.

Moulson, Larsson, Josefson and recent waiver-claim Jordan Nolan are all looking to land in the opening night lineup.

Buffalo opens up the season on Thursday with a home game vs. the Montreal Canadians.


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