Sabres switch up forward lines in search of offensive spark
Skinner practices alongside Eichel, Reinhartby Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com
With their offense in need of a spark, the Buffalo Sabres switched up their forward lines for practice at LECOM Harborcenter on Friday. Jeff Skinner skated alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart while Victor Olofsson moved to a line with Marcus Johansson and Dominik Kahun.
The Sabres have been held to two goals or less in each of their past six games, a stretch that's coincided with the first significant slump of the season from the usual top line of Olofsson, Eichel, and Reinhart. All three players have been held without a point in those six games, marking their longest individual droughts of the season.
Skinner has played alongside Eichel and Reinhart at times within games this season, though not on a regular basis. The Sabres have instead leaned toward trying to establish balance in their forward lines, utilizing Skinner alongside Johansson and, more recently, Curtis Lazar, among others.
"It feels like something we wanted to look at in the skate today and we'll make that final call tomorrow but it's just about getting our offense going and digging for combinations that can make that possible," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "We need more than one line to go here with the opposition that are coming at us but that will definitely be a potential option tomorrow."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Ralph Krueger
Skinner, Eichel, and Reinhart spent the majority of their ice time together last season, outscoring opponents 30-22 in 541:21 of shared ice time at 5-on-5 (data from Natural Stat Trick). The Sabres held a 52.22-percent share of shot attempts in those minutes.
The duo of Eichel and Skinner alone shared the ice for 845:28 at 5-on-5, with the Sabres outscoring opponents 53-43.
"I thought we worked," Eichel said when asked what drove that success. "I thought we had a good team game. I thought we were able to play different styles. We grinded at times when we needed to and obviously, we could make the pretty play. So, it worked last year, hopefully it works tomorrow."
Skinner has seen a resurgence in his game of late after snapping a 22-game goal scoring drought on Feb. 22. He has three goals in his last seven games and has accounted for at least three scoring chances in each of his last four contests (according to Natural Stat Trick), including six against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Skinner credited recent linemates Lazar and Wayne Simmonds with helping spark the change in his play.
"I think playing with those two guys, I think we got on a little bit of a positive run there," he said. "We were able to feed off each other and make plays with each other. I thought the line clicked pretty well. Whenever you're going to have success in this league, I think it's going to be a result of all five guys - more specifically as a forward, all three guys playing well together."
Olofsson, meanwhile, will look to join in on the chemistry developed recently between Johansson and Kahun, who have connected on three goals since the latter was acquired from Pittsburgh last Monday.
Olofsson tallied five points (3+2) in three games upon returning from a lower-body injury on Feb. 13 but has gone without a point in seven contests since.
"We have to realize with that lower-body injury that it's difficult," Krueger said. "It takes time to get back right up to speed. But he's not complaining about anything and working through it and Victor Olofsson will get back to his pace."
Video: Sabres in :50 - Off to Philly
Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) and Lawrence Pilut (illness) were absent. Both players are day-to-day and could miss Saturday's game in Philadelphia, Krueger said.
The Sabres practiced with two goalies after assigning Jonas Johansson to Rochester earlier in the day. Johansson made five appearances during the absence of Linus Ullmark, who is set to back up Carter Hutton against the Flyers.
"It's just the next step," Krueger said. "We're being patient in this process and making sure that he's game ready, so he'll get a good skate tomorrow morning. We liked what we saw today, we liked his feedback today. He needs to get back into the group and that will be on the bench tomorrow."
Here's how the Sabres lined up.
53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
68 Victor Olofsson - 90 Marcus Johansson - 95 Dominik Kahun
13 Jimmy Vesey - 27 Curtis Lazar - 17 Wayne Simmonds
67 Michael Frolik - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
10 Henri Jokiharju, 19 Jake McCabe, 26 Rasmus Dahlin, 33 Colin Miller, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 62 Brandon Montour
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark