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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:00 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - At the Rink blog

Sabres know full team effort needed vs. Ovechkin

WASHINGTON -- If Washington was icing a normal lineup with 12 forwards and six defensemen, odds are Buffalo's new shut-down line of Cody Hodgson with Derek Roy and Ville Leino would be responsible for Alex Ovechkin all night.

Washington, though, will go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the second straight game, so Sabres coach Lindy Ruff figures his team is going to see a lot of Ovechkin on Tuesday, meaning the responsibility for stopping the red-hot Capitals captain will fall on more than just a handful of shoulders.

"We're going to need two lines," Ruff said. "They've got Ovechkin playing on two lines, they're double-shifting him, and he's playing 25-plus minutes. We know what he's capable of doing, and if you give him space and time, anything on the rush, he's a dangerous player."

Ovechkin, who played over 26 minutes in Sunday's 3-0 win against Minnesota, has been piling up the goals, with seven during his five-game scoring streak. He has 10 goals in 13 games this month.

Ruff thinks he knows why.

"He's shooting more," Ruff said of Ovechkin, who is averaging 4.38 shots per game this month (57 in 13 games). "He's shooting from a lot of different places. He's caught some breaks. When you shoot more, good things happen."

Ruff compared Ovechkin's run to that of his own player, right wing Drew Stafford, who has 4 goals and 12 points in the last seven games.

"Stafford is shooting more and he's shooting in some situations that he (previously) passed off, and more pucks are going into the net," Ruff said.

An obvious key to limiting Ovechkin's chances, especially off the rush, is keeping the puck away from him. The Sabres can do that by continuing their dominance in the faceoff circle.

Buffalo has won the faceoff battle in seven of its last eight games. Not coincidentally, the Sabres are 6-0-2 in those games, with a 29-16 edge in non-shootout goals.

Roy and Cody Hodgson have been the catalysts, going a combined 154-129 in the circle (54.4 percent).

"We've gone up against some tough faceoff teams and we've garnered the edge," Ruff said. "It's a big part of the game. When you're not chasing the puck around all night, when you can start with the faceoff, it gives you an opportunity to get it down ice and in the offensive zone. It's a part of the game that sometimes people overlook, but if you can get the edge in the faceoff circle you've got the edge in puck possession."

They'll need it against Ovechkin and the Capitals on Tuesday.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Alan Robinson - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pens down two defensemen, as Letang, Lovejoy hurt

PITTSBURGH -- So much for the Pittsburgh Penguins finally being back at full strength.
Defensemen Kris Letang and Ben Lovejoy, both of whom were hurt Sunday against the Devils, will be out for Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center. Lovejoy had knee surgery and will be out for 3-4 weeks -- a span that runs through the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Letang, who absorbed several hard hits during the 5-2 win over New Jersey, is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He left the ice a bit shaky after colliding with Dainius Zubrus in the second and also was upended by Ryan Carter in the third period, with Carter drawing a tripping penalty.
"Immediately, to look at his reaction on the ice, we weren't going to put him back on the ice until he's been checked out and cleared and wasn't having any effects from the hit," coach Dan Bylsma said of the head-to-head hit with Zubrus.
However, it apparently was the hit by Carter that put Letang out for the Islanders game.
Letang sat out from Nov. 26 until Jan. 19 with a concussion that occurred when he was struck in the head by the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, then missed another five games after being hit hard by the Stars' Eric Nystrom on Feb. 29. Letang was held out then for precautionary reasons after experiencing headaches and other concussion-like symptoms, but he was never diagnosed with a second concussion.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen will miss a third consecutive game with an unspecified injury.
With Letang and Niskanen out, defensemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait were called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to oppose the Islanders. Despres will be paired with Deryk Engelland and Strait will be with Paul Martin.
"We feel confident putting these guys in the lineup," Bylsma said. "It's a playoff time of the year, and if it were a playoff game we'd be confident playing with these guys."
Despres has 1 goal, 3 assists and is a plus-5 in 16 games with Pittsburgh this season, while Strait has played in four games.
"You try to help them out, for sure," said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who will continue to be paired with Brooks Orpik. "They've been here before and they know how the game is played. They're good players and they're going to do a good job. We can rely on them in a big situation to play some big minutes and, if they need some help, they know we are there for them."
Forward Matt Cooke likes that Wilkes-Barre plays the same system as the parent Penguins, a situation he believes creates continuity when a player is called up.
"They play the exact same way down in Wilkes, which is a huge strength for their ability to come up and play and have success," Cooke said. "It's our job as forwards to make sure we're making their job as easy as possible."
When Sidney Crosby returned March 15 after being out with concussion-like symptoms for three months, the same night Letang came back from the Nystrom hit, the Penguins finally had their lineup virtually intact for the first time this season. Until then, centers Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal had played together only 10 times over a 15-month span.
By winning Tuesday, the Penguins -- one point behind the Rangers in the Atlantic Division -- would be guaranteed of finishing no lower than fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The likely lineups for the first of home-and-home games between the Atlantic Division rivals, who also play Thursday night on Long Island:
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
David Ullstrom - Marty Reasoner - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Jay Pandolfo
Mark Streit - Dylan Reese
Travis Hamonic - Andrew MacDonald
Milan Jurcina - Steve Staios
Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
Tavares, the Islanders' leading scorer with 31 goals and 75 points, doesn't have a point and is a minus-4 in four games against Pittsburgh this season. The Islanders have only five goals in the season series; they were shut out 5-0 on Nov. 21, the last time the teams met in Pittsburgh, and 3-0 on Oct. 25. Pittsburgh has won all four games to date, also winning 6-3 on Dec. 10 and 3-2 on Oct. 27.
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Steve Sullivan
Pascal Dupuis - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham
Brooks Orpik - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Paul Martin
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
Brad Thiessen
With 225 wins, Fleury is one away from matching Tom Barrasso's franchise record. His 41 victories this season are a career high and tie him with Pekka Rinne of Nashville for the NHL lead. Barrasso holds the club single-season record with 43 in 1992-93, when the Penguins won the Presidents' Trophy. Fleury is 11-0-1 in his last 12 starts, stopping 339 of 358 shots in those games.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:39 PM

By Ben Raby - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Caps turn to Holtby for showdown with Sabres

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Eighteen days ago, then-Hershey Bears goalie Braden Holtby allowed five goals and was pulled in the third period of a 6-1 loss to the St. John’s IceCaps.

Tuesday night, the recently recalled 22-year-old will start in the biggest game of the Washington Capitals season. The Caps play host to the Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center with the teams tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and six games to play.
"I'm pretty excited for it," Holtby said. "It's a big game, but at the same time it's just another one. It counts as two points, just the same as all the others do. I'm ready to go into it with that mindset, but there will be a little extra motivation to have the team going and get a win."

While former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller will appear in his 57th game of the year for the Sabres, this will be Holtby’s fifth NHL start this season for the Caps. No pressure, kid.

"I've always been confident in my ability to be an NHL goaltender," said Holtby, who is 2-0-1 since his recall with a 1.29 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.

"Whether it's been some conditioning in Hershey or whatnot, it's been a learning process the last three years and I think I've worked hard with the goalie coaches here to make sure that I would be ready for an opportunity like this."

The Capitals' 2008 fourth-round draft pick had impressive NHL stints last season, going 10-2-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in 14 games, but Holtby had reason to believe that this latest call-up wouldn't last more than a few days.

Holtby was so sure that this NHL stay would be brief that he left his car at the daily parking lot at the Harrisburg International Airport. At $20 a day, "it’s collecting a pretty big paycheck there right now."
"It's funny, actually," he said. "I got told Saturday night [March 17] -- we were playing in Hershey -- to go up Sunday morning. And I was basically told, 'See you at the start of the week.' Basically, just go [to Washington] for a couple of days."

A couple of days have now turned into a couple of weeks and with Tomas Vokoun still sidelined because of a nagging groin injury, Michal Neuvirth, 24, and Holtby, 22, could play a major role in the Caps springtime fate.

"As for carrying the team into the playoffs, I really don't know how to answer that because I'm focusing on [this] game," Holtby said. "After this game I'm not sure what will be in store. I'd love to, that's the goal, obviously, for anyone."

Here is Washington's projected lineup for the game against the Sabres.

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Mike Knuble
Keith Aucoin - Marcus Johansson

Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Dmitry Orlov - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

Notes: Capitals coach Dale Hunter is expected to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the second straight game. With only 11 forwards in a 3-0 win Sunday against Minnesota, Alex Ovechkin played 26:19 -- his second highest ice-time of the season.

Nicklas Backstrom joined his teammates for the morning skate, marking the 14th time in the last 15 days that the Caps' No. 1 center has skated. Backstrom has not played since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3. The Caps have won 17 of 38 games without Backstrom in the lineup.

Forward Joel Ward will miss his third straight game after taking a Daniel Briere shot off his foot last Thursday in Philadelphia … Jeff Halpern will sit as a healthy scratch for the second straight game and for the seventh time in the last 10 games overall.

Vokoun took part in the skate but is not expected to dress tonight as he continues to recover from his groin injury. The 35-year-old has started just three of the Caps last 16 games dating to Feb. 22.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:24 PM

By Matt Kalman - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Peverley quickly returns to form for Bruins

BOSTON -- Playing his first game for the Boston Bruins after missing 19 with a severely sprained knee, Rich Peverley barely missed a beat Sunday night in their win at Anaheim.

His 16:44 of ice time was just about his season's average, and he skated both on the penalty kill and power play in addition to his even strength time. Tonight he should be once again in the lineup when the Bruins host Tampa Bay at the TD Garden.

"I want to be able to play as much as I can, so that's good," he said after Boston's morning skate. "But [coach Claude Julien] still held me back a few shifts. So it's probably better in the end for that. But I felt good today, I felt good on that Sunday there, it was good to get in the game there."

Peverley said he felt better as the game went on and that he's pretty close to feeling like himself. The Bruins will need him and the rest of their players at their best, as they'll try to earn a three-game winning streak for the first time since December.

The Bruins are also looking to avenge a 6-1 loss they suffered in Tampa on March 13.

"We've made steps in the right direction [since then]," center Chris Kelly said. "That Tampa game was obviously an embarrassing game for us. I think if you ask anyone in this locker room, that wasn't our style of hockey. Give them credit, they came out hard and played well and played right to the final buzzer like they should have. We didn't show up at all that game."

Tampa Bay did not hold a morning skate because they played last night in Philadelphia. Vincent Lecavalier (hand) and Nate Thompson (upper body) have been skating with the Lightning and could rejoin the lineup as early as tonight.

Here are the projected lineups:


Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Tyler Seguin
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Rich Peverley
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Brian Rolston
Jordan Caron - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Johnny Boychuk
Greg Zanon - Adam McQuaid

Tim Thomas
Marty Turco

Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Tim Wallace - Trevor Smith - JT Wyman
Ryan Malone - Tom Pyatt - Brett Connolly
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - Brandon Segal

Victor Hedman - Eric Brewer
Brian Lee - Brett Clark
Mike Commodore - Brendan Mikkelson
Keith Aulie

Dwayne Roloson
Sebastien Caron
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 12:00 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Devils make rookie blueliner Larsson healthy scratch

NEWARK, N.J. -- For the first time in his NHL career, New Jersey Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson will be listed as a healthy scratch.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer has opted to give Larsson, the fourth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, a breather and will replace him in the lineup with recent call-up Peter Harrold.
"He's a young guy and it doesn't hurt to sit up and watch and take a step back sometimes," DeBoer said. "I think, since he's come back from his injury, he's had a few bumps in the road and struggled with some consistency. We've talked to him about that. It's getting to the point in the year here where it will benefit him to sit and watch for a night."
The Devils enter Tuesday's contest against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center having lost five of their last seven games (2-4-1). The club would not only like to clinch a playoff berth as quickly as possible, but start playing the brand of hockey that enabled it to reach this point in the first place. New Jersey has allowed an un-Devil-like 18 goals in its last five games.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who will get his third straight start between the pipes, is 0-3-1 in his last four starts and 1-4-1 in his last six. The future Hall of Fame goalie, who on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of his NHL debut on March 26, 1992, in a victory over the Boston Bruins at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, feels Larsson can only benefit from watching.
"He's here for a long time and this is just a bump in the road in his progress," Brodeur said. "It happens with young guys a lot, especially when expectations are high. The depth of our defense has been challenged a little bit with Henrik Tallinder out and (Anton Volchenkov). That makes it tough on younger players with regard to how to deal with it. The games pick up this time of year … the intensity, the drive of teams you play against is higher and you have to step up, and that's one of the hardest things to do as a young player."
Larsson missed 10 games in February with a bruised lower back after taking a check from Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. In 64 games with the Devils -- he also missed two games for personal reasons -- Larsson has 2 goals, 18 points and a minus-7 rating.
"You can't hide a defenseman, just like you can't hide a goalie," Brodeur said. "That's because defense is where you get exposed the most. For him, it's a matter of working hard. He'll be here a long time and he'll be back in the lineup sooner than people think. But right now, he has to realize he needs to step up a little bit, and that's fine.
"To be honest, I didn't really see anything that the coaches might have saw (with regard to his play). I thought he was playing alright, but they felt he needed that break."
DeBoer wants to see Larsson fresh and confident entering the postseason.
"You don't get to this stage by just jumping in … you go through a progression, and the progression when he came back from injury was to try and let him fight through some of the inconsistencies," DeBoer said. "But at some point, you have to take a different approach and that's where we're at. He handled it well in our conversation, and I'm confident he'll bounce back."
Harrold, who was recalled from the Devils American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on Monday, will skate with Matt Taormina to start the game. In five games with the Devils this season, Harrold has no points and a minus-1 rating. He last played with the club on Feb. 24 in a loss to Vancouver.
Following their contest with the Blackhawks, the Devils will have three more home games, including Thursday's clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and two on the road. The club currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, has six games remaining and requires a total of six points to officially clinch a playoff spot.
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov did not practice for a second straight day and will likely miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
While the Devils lose their leading hitter and shot blocker in Volchenkov, center Travis Zajac returned to the lineup on Sunday. Zajac, playing his first game since Jan. 2, notched one assist in his team's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He centered Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky against the Penguins, but was working with Kovalchuk and rookie Adam Henrique during the team's full practice session on Monday.
It will mark the first time this season that Henrique will skate on wing.
"It'll be a little change for him playing wing, but he's a smart player and he'll figure it out quick," Zajac said.
The only trio that remained intact from Sunday was Patrik Elias centering Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus. Nine players decided to rest the legs during Tuesday's optional skate, including Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, Petr Sykora, Elias, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, David Clarkson and Marek Zidlicky.
Here are the possible line combinations for the Devils:
Adam Henrique - Travis Zajac - Ilya Kovalchuk
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Petr Sykora - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Matt Taormina - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 11:45 AM

By Staff -  / - At the Rink blog

Letang day-to-day with lower-body injury

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced today that defenseman Kris Letang will not play Tuesday against the New York Islanders and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Letang, who has missed time twice this season due to concussion-like symptoms, collided with New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus during Sunday's game. He returned, however, and played more than 22 minutes.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Letang is not suffering from any concussion-related issues.

The Penguins, who clinched a playoff spot last week, have seven games left in the regular season.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 11:37 AM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - At the Rink blog

Kaleta likely to return for Sabres-Caps showdown

WASHINGTON -- The Sabres are on the ice at Verizon Center in advance of Tuesday night's huge game against Washington for sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Both the Caps and Sabres are tied with 84 points, but Washington holds the tiebreaker and is currently in eighth place due to its 36 non-shootout victories. The Sabres have only 30, but they can make the tiebreaker meaningless with a win here.

Judging from the line rushes early in the morning skate, Patrick Kaleta (thumb) will return to the lineup and skate on the fourth line with Brad Boyes and Cody McCormick. Kaleta has missed the last three games.

Nathan Gerbe (upper-body) has also been cleared to play, but he was skating as an extra forward.

The Sabres announced on their Twitter feed Tuesday morning that Travis Turnbull was returned to Rochester of the American Hockey League.

Ryan Miller is expected to make his ninth straight start. He has started 28 of the last 30 games, going 18-5-5 over the span since Jan. 19.

The Sabres have one of the hottest lines in the NHL going right now with Tyler Ennis playing in between Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno. The Sabres' new top line has 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in the last eight games.

Buffalo is 18-5-5 in its last 28 games. The Sabres made the playoffs last season after going 16-4-4 in their final 24 games.

Here are the Sabres' expected lines and defense pairings:

Marcus Foligno - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Ville Leino - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Corey Tropp - Cody Hodgson - Thomas Vanek
Cody McCormick - Brad Boyes - Patrick Kaleta

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers
Andrej Sekera - Robyn Regehr
Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 10:10 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to / - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 27th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

Wins to
earn 8th
8th 76 84 6 90 4

9th 76 84 6 90 4
10th 76 78 6 84 6
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 77 87 5 92 3

9th 76 86 6 92 4
10th 78 86 4 90 4
11th 77 85 5 90 4
The skinny: Look no further than America's capitol city for the 'must-see' game Tuesday.

The Buffalo Sabres will be in town to face the Washington Capitals, and the winner moves into sole position of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The projection for playoff qualification in the East remains at 91 points, so while no 'spoils' will go to the victor, that team can move a little closer towards the magic number and in turn, inflict some damage on the nearest competitor. A Washington win coupled with a Florida loss at Montreal and the Southeast Division crown also comes into sight for the Caps. Florida visits Washington one last time this season on April 5th.

Washington holds the tiebreaker over Buffalo, with more regulation and/or overtime wins -- the magical 'ROW' column in the standings -- by a wide margin.  A tie in the standings does not help the Sabres. With five games remaining for each club after Tuesday, the Sabres would have to gain three more points than Washington in those games to get past them.

It is a small number but with an equally small number of games remaining, it becomes quite a task to accomplish barring a Washington collapse. The Panthers need to help their own cause and not rely upon others to push them along. Winless in their past three games, including shootout losses to the Oilers and Islanders, a Florida win has significant repercussions for the East race. It would put them four points, at the very least, up on the ninth-place team.

Again, at this point in the season with the schedule dwindling, that is a significant number and a gap that would be very difficult to overcome for the team that loses in Washington. The winner on Tuesday in Washington will get a leg up and 'control their destiny' and the Panthers can 'kill two birds with one stone' with a win.
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 11:10 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

OTT @ WPG- 17:03 of the Third Period

At 17:03 of the third period in the Senators/Jets game, video review determined that Jason Spezza hits the puck out of the air which then deflects off  Evander Kane's body and enters the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Winnipeg.

According to rule 78.4 "If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate or body , in any manner, the goal shall be allowed."
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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 10:44 PM - 2011-2012 Situation Room blog

DAL @ CGY - 14:03 of the Second Period

At 14:03 of the second period in the Stars/Flames game, video review determined that Adam Burish kicked the puck into the net with his right skate. No goal Dallas.

According to rule 49.2 "A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net.".
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Quote of the Day

We have to develop into a good team. We have to develop the pieces now that are a little more evident and in place to become a good team. It's not there yet.

— Sabres coach Dan Bylsma on new Buffalo players working together