Sabres express confidence in defense depth following injury to Montour
Jokiharju among players who will look to step up in defenseman's absenceby Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com
The Sabres will see their defensive depth tested with the announcement that Brandon Montour will miss the remainder of the preseason due to a hand injury.
Montour sustained the injury during the team's preseason game in Columbus on Tuesday. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said he is not expected to be ready for opening night, though the initial hope is that his return will come early in the regular season.
The defenseman spent the summer rehabbing from a sprained knee he sustained while representing Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship in May.
"I wouldn't expect him right off the hop but pretty soon thereafter," Krueger said when asked if Montour might be ready for opening night. "At the moment, we're going through camp with his situation. As you well know, it's upper-body and we'll work on it.
"But he can keep his lower body moving, which is important. He's worked so hard off the knee injury to get up to speed, so if there is a positive in this it's that."
If there is another silver lining, it's the amount of depth the Sabres have added on defense since acquiring Montour from Anaheim at last season's trade deadline.
Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju were added to a group of right shots that already featured Montour, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, and Casey Nelson, along with an up-and-coming prospect in William Borgen. John Gilmour joined a left-shot group comprised of Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe, Lawrence Pilut, and Marco Scandella.
So, even with Montour now sidelined and Bogosian still recovering from offseason hip surgery, Krueger said he'll be confident in the group of six the Sabres will ice in Pittsburgh on Oct. 3.
"I'm quite pleased that we have the depth," Krueger said. "I have to say honestly that the depth, you wouldn't want it to just creep in this quickly but it gives us opportunities so we feel confident that we can start with a solid D corps."
Krueger said that even prior to the injuries, the group of six for opening night had not yet been set in stone. Competition should only intensify now with a clear opening for players like Borgen, Jokiharju, and Nelson to slot their way into the opening-night lineup.
The experience is there. Borgen proved to himself that he could hold his own during a short stint in the NHL last season. Jokiharju played 38 games with Chicago as a 19-year-old and scored in his preseason debut on Monday. Nelson has 93 NHL games on his resume and made the opening-night lineup last season.
It could also pose an opportunity for the left-handed Gilmour, who put his speed on display during a two-point outing at Penn State. Krueger said he's willing to play defensemen on their off sides and can support them in doing so.
"I've coached teams that had six left handers and I'm not afraid of that," he said. "I think it's all about supporting them properly and setting up the breakouts accordingly. You can do things as a coach to help a guy playing his off side, for sure."
Players, meanwhile, echoed their coach in complementing the depth of the defense corps after practice. Jokiharju and Nelson both recognized the internal competition as a positive. Even Miller, a veteran among the group, said he sees himself as competing for ice time.
"I think there's a lot of competition on the back end for ice time," he said. "That's never a bad thing for a team. It always just makes your team better and the whole of the group better, so we'll see."
Commence Phase 2
Video: Sabres in 50: Preparing for Toronto
Krueger said his camp is divided into three phases, the second of which began with today's practice. While players took a day off Wednesday, the coaching staff prepared video from the team's two preseason games to use during meetings before they take on Toronto for a pair of contests this weekend.
Nelson offered a bit of insight into how the video portion of camp changed with a couple of games under their belt.
"Before we were just looking more at Team Europe from the World Cup, a lot of those clips, getting the groove on some of the more system-type things," Nelson said. "Now that we have a couple games we can look at some of the things we did well and anything we can change."
Krueger coached Team Europe - a collection of players from eight European nations - all the way to the championship game during the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 using an aggressive style that, in principle, he's now looking to replicate in Buffalo.
Nelson echoed several of his teammates in saying that Krueger's coaching philosophy will be conducive towards allowing players to operate instinctually.
"It's not straightforward systems that we're doing here," he said. "It's more of an outline, a lot of principles to go by, and then really he gives us a lot of the credit to just go out there and reply on our instincts. It's a lot of just playing, reading each other, staying connected.
"The more that we play with each other, against each other - even in practice - we feel more connected. We feel better and better each day."
As promised, the Sabres shuffled their lines drastically following their first set of preseason games. Notable adjustments included Sam Reinhart joining a line with Jimmy Vesey and Jack Eichel; Dylan Cozens centering a line with Jeff Skinner and Evan Rodrigues; and Dahlin pairing with Ristolainen on defense.
Krueger said the lineup for Friday's game in Toronto will include a mix of both practice sessions, with some players expected to play in both games against the Maple Leafs this weekend.
"I think it's just continuing here these next couple of games for the coaching staff, the new coaching group, to really see where the opportunities are with everybody - left side, right side," Krueger said.
"We're looking at some different synergies and we'll see after the two Toronto games we'll be making some decisions."
Here's how the two practice groups lined up:
13 Jimmy Vesey - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 42 Dylan Cozens - 71 Evan Rodrigues
74 Rasmus Asplund - 90 Marcus Johansson - 68 Victor Olofsson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 25 Arttu Ruotsalainen / 46 Eric Cornel
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
10 Henri Jokiharju - 8 Casey Nelson
6 Marco Scandella - 33 Colin Miller / 61 Devante Stephens
40 Carter Hutton
34 Jonas Johansson
50 Michael Houser
81 Remi Elie - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 72 Tage Thompson
49 C.J. Smith - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 21 Kyle Okposo
27 Curtis Lazar - 12 Kevin Porter - 15 Jean-Sebastien Dea
52 Andrew Oglevie - 47 Sean Malone - 43 Conor Sheary
58 John Gilmour - 3 William Borgen
19 Jake McCabe - 44 Brandon Hickey
78 Jacob Bryson - 38 Zach Redmond
35 Linus Ullmark
36 Andrew Hammond