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Sabres emphasize defensive discipline heading into meeting with Panthers

Ullmark to start in net; Wilson will make season debut

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Ralph Krueger emphasized scoring by committee and defensive discipline as keys for the Buffalo Sabres as they await the returns of forwards Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson. Their first test is this afternoon against a high-scoring Florida Panthers team. 

Olofsson and Skinner rank second and fourth on the Sabres in goals, respectively. Krueger characterized their absence as a time for the Sabres to lean on the principles they have been working to establish as habits since September. 

"It's one of the advantages we have is the principles and concepts, whether we're at home or on the road, whether we're playing Florida or San Jose, they stay the same," he said. "It's the commitment to that and the execution of that that gives us the opportunity to be in charge of the game. 

"If we slip from those, we lose control and the other teams with their styles take over. So, it's something that helps us when we do have injuries, when players slip out, it's somebody else in, same roles, same execution without the puck. Everybody's all in, everybody needs to help and work and with the puck our principles stay the same, so it really doesn't change."

Newly acquired forward Michael Frolik is still securing a work visa and has not yet joined the team. Scott Wilson will make his season debut for the Sabres after being recalled Thursday, while Rasmus Asplund is expected to replace Olofsson on a line alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

The Panthers rank third in the NHL in goals scored per game (3.55). Linus Ullmark, who will start this afternoon, made a combined 84 saves in the first Sabres' first two meetings with the Panthers, both of which were victories. 

"It takes a lot of defensive discipline when you have offensive power out of the lineup and that is probably, with the pace of the National Hockey League, the most difficult thing is to keep a young group focused on the sacrificial work that's needed to be strong defensively without the puck," Krueger said. 

"We need it more than ever against a team like Florida today. They have as potent and as dangerous and as skilled an offense as we have in our division. We will be tested and of course, I've mentioned it the last couple days, scoring by committee will be what we need to do more than individual skill and individual talent just taking over for us. 

"Yeah, it's adversity, but it's a good time to get to see another type of adversity and fight our way through it and continue to cement our game."


Numbers to know

•    3 - Curtis Lazar (2+1), Marcus Johansson (1+3), and Jack Eichel (2+1) enter the afternoon riding three-game point streaks.

•    22 - Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau was named the NHL's First Star of the Month for December after tying for league lead with 22 points in 13 contests. His season total of 55 points is tied for sixth in the NHL. 


Tune in 

Coverage on MSG begins at 12:30 p.m. Due to Buffalo Bills programming, the game can be heard on WBEN 930 AM instead of WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 1. 

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