Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-4-2017
The injuries to the Buffalo Sabres defense just keep coming.
A mere one game after the Sabres got one of their defenseman back, another went down. Justin Falk had been sidelined the entire season with a lower body injury until he returned to the lineup on Thursday in Arizona. The 6'5" 223 lb. veteran d-man skated 15:32 and was a minus-1 in Buffalo's 5-4 win over the Coyotes and tonight, according to those in Dallas covering Buffalo's morning skate, Falk will be on the top-pairing against the Stars.
Reports from the rink have Rasmus Ristolainen, the league leader in average time on ice, out for tonight's game with an upper-body injury. Sabres head coach Phil Housley told the gathered after practice that Ristolainen is "day-to-day" with an injury apparently incurred in the Arizona game. Ristolainen joins a trio of defensemen on injured reserve--Zach Bogosian, Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges--on the injured list.
As one goes down, opportunity arises for another and Falk looks to be the one to skate along side top-pairing defenseman Marco Scandella. The other pairings, according to reports have rookie Victor Antipin skating with Taylor Fedun and the duo of Jake McCabe and Matt Tennyson together as they have been for much of the season.
In all, there's not a lot of experience in that group outside of Scandella (386 games.) The 29 yr.old Falk has played in 224 games but has spent much of his shuttling between the AHL and NHL, including last season when he started out in Rochester. McCabe (24 yrs. old) has played in 175 NHL games while Tennyson (27 yrs. old) finally broke through with 45 NHL games last season after spending nearly all of his prior six pro seasons playing in the minors (178 AHL games, 60 NHL games.)
Fedun finally got a break last season after signing with Buffalo. The undrafted free agent spent his first four seasons playing 263 AHL games and only 12 NHL games before signing with the Sabres. Last year he split time between Rochester and Buffalo.
Antipin has played in nine games this season after coming over from Russia this off season.
Robin Lehner looks to get the nod in net for Buffalo tonight and he may need to be sharp.
According to rink reports, we can look for the same forward combinations as in the previous game:
Thursday's game against the Coyotes was a good one for a number of players. Kyle Okposo got off the schneid with his first goal of the season while adding an assist and his line did some serious damage. Benoit Pouliot had two goals and an assist while Ryan O'Reilly had three assists, two of them primary.
Okposo's goal was a huge weight off of his shoulders and it came extremely late in the period with him at the end of his shift. With the puck in the neutral zone and heading up-ice, Okposo looked as if he was headed towards the bench for a change, but he continued on either of his own device or on a prod from the bench. He joined the play late as a trailer and one-timed a shot that lit the lamp with 0.9 seconds left, lifting his arms with a mixture of fatigue and relief.
Good for him and good for the Sabres.
The Sabres also scored a shorthanded goal against Arizona, their league-leading third of the season and all of them scored by Evander Kane.
Kane is accustomed to being involved in the penalty kill, but Housley has been easing Jack Eichel into that role as well. The duo has speed to burn and the opposition always needs to be wary when they're on the ice as shown against the 'Yotes. after Arizona defenseman Jason Demers blew a tire at the Sabres blueline while on the powerplay, Kane gathered the puck, jumped over Demers and started up ice with Eichel on a 2-on-none break. Goal.
"They're very deadly," Housley said (via John Vogl, The Buffalo News.) "They do a terrific job. The other team has to be aware of that because if they get an opportunity they don't need many. They've been converting on them."
Two years ago former Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma used Kane and Eichel, albeit separately, on the kill in the preseason. Buffalo scored a shorthanded goal in each of their five preseason games with Eichel scoring two. Kane, O'Reilly and Johan Larsson also shorties.
"He’s used his skating for defending way more for play away from the puck than he has for offense,” said Bylsma at the time “Frankly, I didn’t really see that in a lot of the games I saw him play. … He’s tracked pucks down, he’s tracked back, he’s caught players, he’s stripped players, he’s played well away from the puck defensively down low with his skating ability. If there’s anything that’s changed my impression, that’s been it.”
Bylsma also stuck to the theory that a penalty kill unit should do just that, kill penalties, and not use it for offensive opportunities, despite seeing Eichel score on breakaways in that situation. “I have never ever been part of a mentality like that. It would be one thing if we talked about scoring a short-handed goal or we’re looking for opportunities, which hasn’t been the case. It’s not something we’re trying to do, trying to look for opportunities to exploit. They’ve come and you’ve got a skilled player like Jack out there and it’s turned into two of them for us.”
Housley has used Kane and Eichel as a PK duo sparingly, but they've gotten some pretty good results. Neither Kane nor Eichel have been on the ice for a powerplay goal against thus far. Kane has three shorties and Eichel has the primary assist on two of them.