DENVER - Kyle Okposo has gotten to know Wayne Simmonds a bit from summers spent training in Toronto. He knows him even better as an opponent, having spent the majority of their careers in the same division since entering the league in 2008.
Okposo flashed a grin when asked to describe what it's like to line up against his new teammate.
"It's not fun," Okposo said. "You always know when he's on the ice. He's a competitor and plays an honest game but at the same time you know when he's on the ice. So, yeah, looking forward to having him on our side."
Video: PREGAME: Okposo
Simmonds will make his Buffalo Sabres debut when the team opens a four-game Western Conference road trip against the Colorado Avalanche tonight at Pepsi Center. Simmonds was one of two acquisitions made by the team on trade deadline day along with forward Dominik Kahun.
Kahun skated with the team this morning but will not play against the Avalanche. Coach Ralph Krueger said the 24-year-old has a lower-body ailment that is being treated day-to-day.
Okposo expressed excitement about both acquisitions, which general manager Jason Botterill said were made with the goal of setting the team up to play meaningful games in March. The players influenced that strategy by winning four of five games before the deadline.
"We've got to take care of business and that's kind of the way we approached the last month or so and played some pretty good hockey over the last few weeks," Okposo said.
"We just want to take it small picture. It's one game at a time. We're not going to make up the ground that we need to with looking ahead to see what other teams are doing. It's all about our game and how we play and that's what's going to give us the most success."
The deficit in the standings is back up to eight points following Toronto's victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday, though the Sabres have two games in hand. Both Krueger and Okposo said the team is keeping any talk of the standings out of the dressing room as they try to limit the focus to their own game.
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
"We focus on what the task at hand is," Krueger said. "We are reaching to grow and learn and develop every single day, and that's the best plan for this group right now and we've had that since September 12.
"We're going to keep plugging away that way right through this stretch where we know what the reality is. We know what the noise is saying. But it doesn't impede our process at all, which is really important, and that's staying focused on the next task which, beginning tonight, it's the next shift and so on. That's our mantra right now."
Scouting the Avs
The Sabres' road trip features four matchups with teams currently occupying playoff spots in the Western Conference. First up are the Avalanche, who lead the conference in goal differential (plus-46) and goals scored (211). Their average of 2.70 goals against per game ranks sixth in the NHL.
Colorado put its potent offensive attack on display in the last meeting between the two teams, a 6-1 Avalanche victory in KeyBank Center on Feb. 4. Injuries have struck in the meantime - forward Andre Burakovsky, who tallied four points in that last meeting, recently joined an injured list that includes star winger Mikko Rantanen, center Nazem Kadri, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer, among others.
The Avalanche have won three straight games in spite of those injuries. Goaltender Pavel Francouz has stepped up in place of Grubauer, taking home NHL First Star of the Week honors on Monday.
"It's the power of the group, actually, that's been their danger and they've continued to win also through those injuries," Krueger said. "We have to realize how good the goaltending has remained, and the attack has remained. So, again, for us it's always about our game. It's about what we're doing and how we approach the opportunities that we see."
The Sabres lineup will look significantly different from the last meeting also. In addition to Simmonds, forwards Johan Larsson, Kyle Okposo, Victor Olofsson, and Curtis Lazar and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin were all absent from that night's lineup.
"We're very aware of what they did to us the last time they were in our building 10 games ago," Okposo said. "Definitely an embarrassing loss for us. They have tremendous offensive prowess and they have a lot of game breakers over there and we're going to have to try and limit their opportunities.
"We have to do that by using our legs and getting in front of them and I think that's been the big key for our success in the last few weeks is our game away from the puck. Tonight, it's going to have to be ramped up a couple notches because these guys can do some special things with it."
The game can be seen on NBCSN with puck drop set for 8 p.m. Dan Dunleavy and Roby Ray will have the radio call on WGR 550.