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With two preseason games remaining, Sabres top lines taking shape

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Only two preseason games separate the Buffalo Sabres from their season opener on Oct. 5. After 14 cuts were made from the training camp roster this past weekend, it's becoming easier to visualize the lineup we might see come opening night. 

With 32 players still remaining on the camp roster, there will continue to be some competition both at forward and on defense. But after juggling his lines for Buffalo's two games against Toronto this past weekend, it may be telling that Phil Housley has reverted the top of his lineup back to what worked at the outset of camp.

Jack Eichel was back between Evander Kane and Jason Pominville at practice on Monday, reuniting a line that was responsible for three goals against Pittsburgh last Tuesday, while Ryan O'Reilly returned to a line with Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo on his flanks. 

Video: Sabres Now (9/25/17)

The line of Girgensons, O'Reilly and Okposo was one of Buffalo's strongest in early practices as well as in the preseason opener last Monday. Housley had always intended to try different players at different positions, which included Girgensons at center this past weekend, but Okposo said he's fit well on their wing.

"We've definitely developed some chemistry pretty early in camp," Okposo said. "Gussy's a guy who's always going to give you 100 percent and he's not shy to get his nose in there and really sacrifice his body to go help the team win and get the puck back and do the little things right. I think he definitely has a newfound confidence this year and I think he's been really going for it."

Here's how the lineup looked in its entirety on Monday:

9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
67 Benoit Pouliot - 23 Sam Reinhart - 25 Seth Griffith
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 10 Jacob Josefson - 95 Justin Bailey

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 47 Zach Bogosian
4 Josh Gorges - 93 Victor Antipin
41 Justin Falk - 5 Matt Tennyson
38 Cody Goloubef - 27 Taylor Fedun

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark

Competition remains open along the wing, for which Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste both remain candidates. Housley assessed their camps following practice on Monday.

"Justin does a terrific job getting on the forecheck and [has had] little bit of a PK role," Housley said. "He's been working at it, trying to read and react position-wise. I really like his speed. 

"Nick has had a little bit of a slow start but he's been coming on as of late. He's got to continue to use his speed, use his body, get to the net and just do things a little quicker."

Seth Griffith, who is also in that mix and has appeared in three preseason games thus far, skated opposite Benoit Pouliot on a line centered by Sam Reinhart. Reinhart has skated at center for the entirety of camp thus far, although Housley hinted early that he could be tried on the wing as well.

While the Sabres look to solidify their lineup, they're also continuing to learn a new system. Okposo said the players are still adjusting to the aggressive habits that Housley expects.

"You've got to exert a lot of energy and you've got to be in the right places quicker," Okposo said. "I think that's something that we have to really work on, is not sitting back on our heels and making sure we're on our toes all the time. If we make a mistake we want to make it going hard and going fast."

One area Housley called for the Sabres to improve upon specifically following Saturday's loss was their reluctance to shoot. 

"Once exhibition games start you try to get out of those bad habits and simplify the offensive side of the game and get pucks to the net and attack the net hard," Kane said. "I think we need a little bit more intensity in that area and hopefully we regain that mentality and can carry it over into the next two games.


Injury report

Video: TRAINING CAMP: Housley

There were two notable absences at practice, with Evan Rodrigues still nursing the hand injury that forced him to exit Buffalo's game in Toronto on Friday and Jake McCabe pronounced a week-to-week with an upper-body injury. 

Housley had no timetable for Rodrigues' return, but was optimistic about the possibility of McCabe being ready for the regular-season opener on Oct. 5. 

Alex Nylander and Sean Malone have both yet to skate with the team at camp, but Housley said both are making progress behind the scenes. Malone has returned to individual skating. 


Guhle to start season in Rochester

Brendan Guhle was among the players assigned to training camp in Rochester on Sunday, and although he was a dominant presence at the Prospects Challenge, Housley said the move was made for him to develop his timing and decision making as he enters his first professional season.

"I just felt he's got to get more comfortable with himself. We talked to him about going down and developing. It's not a bad thing, there's plenty of good players down there, treat it with respect because it's good hockey. He just needs to improve in those areas of his game and feel comfortable. But you saw when he is very decisive in his decisions, he's a special player."

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