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Position battles continue as Sabres host Islanders

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

For some players, the final game of the preseason serves as a dress rehearsal for opening night. Teams typically ice their full lineups, making the game the closest thing they'll experience to regular-season action until they're suited up for the real thing.

For others, like Seth Griffith, the game acts as a final push to prove they belong on the NHL roster. Griffith will play his fourth exhibition game when the Sabres host the New York Islanders at KeyBank Center on Friday night. 

"You want to have your best game tonight," Griffith said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Griffith entered camp as a proven scorer in the AHL, but he had yet to replicate that production in 58 games at the NHL level. Since then, the Sabres have given him ample opportunity to standout. He played in each of the first two exhibition games, and then spent his third game on the wing alongside Ryan O'Reilly. 

Video: NYI at BUF Preview (9/29/17)

He was able to find the back of the net in the preseason opener against Carolina, which he said helped set the course for his play from that point on.

"It was early in the first period too, which was nice," he said. "It's one of those things where you get a goal or you make a good play your first shift or something like that, it just so happens your legs get underneath you after that."

Griffith's legs are what make him a good fit for Phil Housley's system, which requires constant movement. That includes a lot of cycling down low before peeling off to the net, which the 5-foot-9-inch Griffith said helps him to avoid clashing with larger defensemen in the corner. 

Housley will be looking to see him utilize that speed even more against the Islanders.

"He can make plays when he has time and space,' Housley said. "The big thing for me is him using that speed to provide that area of his game where he can get his head up and survey the ice a little bit. I really like the way he gets on the forecheck and using his speed that way. Those are things we're going to look at as we evaluate this last game."

Video: Phil Housley Pregame (9/29/17)

So far, he's done well enough to stay in the conversation as Buffalo's training camp roster continues to be whittled down. With Nicholas Baptiste having been reassigned on Thursday, is appears as though the competition for a spot on the right wing alongside Sam Reinhart has been narrowed down to Griffith and Justin Bailey. 

Bailey played alongside Reinhart in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, leaving Griffith with a chance to make one last push. 

"I think the competition is good for camp," Griffith said. "It keeps the pace up for practices. I thinks sometimes when you go into camp you kind of know where everybody's penciled in. this year there were some question marks up in the air so I think it just pushed everybody that much harder."

 

On the blue line

Competition remains open on defense as well, not only for a spot on the opening night roster but also for standing on the depth chart as the season progresses. 

That depth chart became crowded after the Sabres brought in Victor Antipin, Nathan Beaulieu, Matt Tennyson and Marco Scandella during the offseason, as well as Cody Goloubef on a professional tryout. 

"It a good [chance] to show what they can bring to our team," Housley said. "There is going to be injuries during the season when we're going to have to call guys up and have that depth at defense and I really like where our D corps is right now as far as the depth is concerned." 

The additions created competition with returnees on the Sabres roster, whether it's defensemen who served in depth roles last season like Justin Falk and Taylor Fedun or a regular such as Josh Gorges. 

"That's the way it should be every camp no matter what your status is, no matter what your contract is," Gorges said. "You should come here earning a spot on the team. You're not on the team yet. You've got to go through and earn your spot, earn your ice time. I think everyone knows there's lots of guys who can get in there and play. It's a good motivator for us as players."

 

Learning from Pittsburgh

The game against the Islanders can actually be considered Buffalo's second "dress rehearsal," with the Penguins having also iced their full lineup on Wednesday. Jack Eichel said that the game was a positive step in terms of players being able to react in Housley's system rather than overthink. 

"I think whenever you implement a new system and you have a lot of new people around, people tend to do a lot more thinking than playing and it takes a little bit for it to become second nature," he said. "I think that that was a good step for us in terms of we were reacting in the game. We did a lot of good things against a good team."

 

Projected lineup

9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Matt Moulson - 23 Sam Reinhart - 25 Seth Griffith
22 Johan Larsson - 10 Jacob Josefson - 17 Jordan Nolan

93 Victor Antipin - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 47 Zach Bogosian
4 Josh Gorges - 41 Justin Falk

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson

 

Tune in tonight

Brian Duff and Marty Biron will kick off coverage on MSG-B beginning at 6:30 p.m. You can also listen live on WGR 550, with Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray on the call.

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