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Sabres focus on net presence heading into matchup with Canucks

Vesey skates alongside Eichel; Pilut reflects on debut

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Following a 5-1 loss in St. Louis on Thursday, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger highlighted shot volume and net-front presence as key areas in need of improvement as the team continues to play without two of its offensive threats in Victor Olofsson and Jeff Skinner. 

The Sabres tallied 19 shots against the Blues, a figure they'll look to improve at home against Vancouver on Saturday. 

"We had a meeting before practice. Even some of the drills, it was at the forefront of what we were trying to work on," forward Jimmy Vesey said. "I think it's just a mindset, though. Every goal's not going to pretty. So, you got to get guys to the front of the net and then shoot the puck when they're there."

Vesey will get an opportunity to provide offense after spending much of the game in St. Louis on a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. He practiced there Friday, and Krueger said he expects to utilize that same look against the Canucks. 

Vesey is proud of the defensive game he established in the first half of this season. He's been used consistently on the penalty kill and, at plus-10, has a positive plus/minus for the first time in his career. 

Video: SABRES IN :50

That said, he's also identified as a goal scorer his entire hockey life and hopes to utilize this latest opportunity to provide the Sabres with needed secondary scoring. 

"To be honest, I think I need to shoot more," he said. "I've passed up a couple in the last two games. I don't know, it feels good to make a pretty pass sometimes, but I think shooting the puck, it might go in and it might create three more chances off rebounds, off scrums.

"So, I think I got to get back to the shoot-first mentality and I'd like to score more goals in front of the net. I think I've done that in my career. I don't think I've had as many opportunities right on top of the crease. So, I got to get myself there."

Krueger wants his entire forward group to adopt that same mindset. 

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger

"I think more than anything, as a group, we're actually striving for a stronger net presence," Krueger said. "Jimmy is the kind of guy that would profit from second opportunities. Being around the net is somewhere that you need to be to get those, so I think it's one of the many things we've learned out of the game yesterday is just getting stronger. 

"We had a lot of neutral zone transition situations that just fizzled out on us yesterday against St. Louis. They were very committed to what they do defensively, and it exposed that. It's an area we're going to work on, to break down teams that do protect the inside as strong as they did. Jimmy's somebody who can really help us there with his size and his speed."


Pilut's debut 

Lawrence Pilut took on his fair share of responsibility in his season debut on Thursday. He skated 19:42, second among Sabres defensemen behind partner Rasmus Ristolainen. Often, he was matched up with the Blues' top line of Zach Sanford, Ryan O'Reilly, and David Perron. 

"I felt alright," Pilut said. "I mean, I think I can get more and more comfortable but that will come the more games you play and everything. I had a good jump in my pinches and stuff like that. I've just got to keep building on it and keep being more comfortable all the time."

Pilut played 33 games for Buffalo last season, his first in North America. More than anything on the ice, his biggest takeaway from the experience was the importance of staying "mentally fresh" through the grind of an 82-game schedule. 

"I think I reflected on it a little after the season, just try to let go of hockey when you come out of the rink just because it's such a long season," he said. "It's different coming over. You play more games and it's a tighter schedule and everything. You've just got to be ready for that, and that's just mentally.

"… You just try to live a little more in the moment. When you're not at the rink, just cherish the moments you have with your family, your girlfriend, your friends and everything. I think that's a big part of it."


Friday's practice

Zemgus Girgensons took a maintenance day but is expected to be in the lineup Saturday. Jake McCabe returned to practice following a one-game absence and is also expected to dress against the Canucks.

Here's how the Sabres lined up: 

13 Jimmy Vesey - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
43 Conor Sheary - 90 Marcus Johansson - 67 Michael Frolik
74 Rasmus Asplund - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
20 Scott Wilson - 27 Curtis Lazar - 71 Evan Rodrigues

19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 62 Brandon Montour 
24 Lawrence Pilut - 10 Henri Jokiharju
4 Zach Bogosian - 33 Colin Miller

35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton

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