If things really clicked for the Buffalo Sabres during their comeback win in Boston on Saturday, now is the time to prove it. Ryan O'Reilly said it felt like, in that game, the Sabres had figured out how they need to play to be successful, but added that it wouldn't mean much if they didn't build on it.
Coming into their home game against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, the Sabres have maintained that attitude.
"It doesn't mean a whole lot, how we played, until we follow it up with another good performance tonight and kind of let it snowball like that," defenseman Jake McCabe said. "Saying it is one thing, so we need to go out there and show that we know how we need to play and follow up that performance."
Video: Preview: DET at BUF (10/24/17)
Their success in Boston came down to simplifying their game and making sound decisions in the neutral zone. Against the Bruins, the Sabres took what was given to them and were willing to dump the puck in the offensive zone and retrieve it on the forecheck.
Eventually, they wore the Bruins down and were able to erase a 4-1 deficit that had been built on some untimely bounces.
"It's not rocket science," McCabe said. "If you get the puck in their end more than you have to defend, it makes the game a lot easier on all of us defensemen and forwards. We're skating in the right direction most of the game. When you turn the puck over, you're wasting a lot of energy having to come back."
Prior to that game in Boston, the Sabres had been unhappy with their effort and execution in a loss at home to the Vancouver Canucks. There's obvious parallels there to the Red Wings, who are winless in their last four games and are coming off of a 4-1 loss to Vancouver.
After that game, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill called his team's effort "embarrassing."Much like the Sabres in Boston, the Red Wings will come to Buffalo with something to prove.
"We definitely have to know who our opponent is right now, because they've got a thorn up their side," Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
The game will be nationally televised on NBCSN, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the call on WGR 550.
On the power play
Both the Sabres and Red Wings enter the game having experienced their share of troubles with the extra man. The Red Wings are 1-for-16 on the power play in their last five games; the Sabres are 5-for-32 this season with six shorthanded goals against.
Housley has continued to tweak his units in search of consistency, with the latest change being the addition of Victor Antipin to the top unit alongside Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Having a second defenseman, Housley said, should help guard against those 2-on-1 rushes that have turned into shorthanded goals, and the coach hopes that Antipin's instincts will lead to quicker puck movement as well. But it's Antipin's 5-on-5 play since returning to the lineup that has earned him a spot with the man advantage.
"He's mentally strong, he's prepared, he approaches the game the right way," Housley said. "I really like the physicality he brought against Boston, he was finishing his checks. You might not see it, but when you watch it on film, those things add up. He needs to keep bringing a physical element to his game."
Girgensons, Falk return to practice
Housley said Monday that Zemgus Girgensons and Justin Falk had returned to skating, and both players took an encouraging step Tuesday when they joined the Sabres for their morning skate. Falk has missed all nine games this season with an undisclosed injury; Girgensons has missed the last two after blocking a shot off of his foot in Vegas.
Both players remain day-to-day, but Housley said they are "close" to being game ready.
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. Sam Reinhart practiced on the left wing alongside Ryan O'Reilly Tuesday morning with Benoit Pouliot centering the fourth line, but Housley said the team is still evaluating who will be playing down the middle.
Here's the projected lineup in its entirety:
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 29 Jason Pominville
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
17 Jordan Nolan - 23 Sam Reinhart - 95 Justin Bailey
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 25 Seth Griffith
6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
93 Victor Antipin - 5 Matt Tennyson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson