Second periods are an area in which the Buffalo Sabres have struggled this season, having been outscored 23-15 in the period through 17 games. It may seem circumstantial, but there is one key difference to the second period as opposed to the first and third: the long line change.
Sabres coach dedicated Phil Housley dedicated time to improving the team's changes when they returned to practice at KeyBank Center on Monday afternoon.
"I think our line changes have got to be a little bit sharper," Housley said. "Not just the change part - our lengths of shift can come down - but also when we dump it in, having a plan and a balance coming into that forecheck so teams aren't able to quick it up against us or get through the neutral zone quickly. That was the mindset behind that drill."
Video: Sabres Now (11/13/17)
Part of improving their line changes, according to defenseman Josh Gorges, is as simple as players increasing the urgency with which they skate to the bench. The quicker the next player can get on the ice, the better chance the Sabres have of hemming their opponent in the defensive zone as opposed to getting quick outlets for breakouts.
Another aspect is the timing of when to change.
"I think more importantly, it's changing at the right times," Gorges said. "We want to be changing when we're putting the pucks toward their end so we can get out and continue to forecheck. If we're changing when the puck's coming back, we're really hurting everybody else, the guys who are on the ice and the guys who are coming on the ice."
Changing lines gets trickier in the second period because of the greater distance separating teams from the defensive zone to their bench. Buffalo's 23 goals-against in second periods this season ties them with Pittsburgh for the third-highest total in the league.
"The second period you have a longer change, it's a longer distance to go, it's harder to get off," Gorges said. "So those little plays and managing where you are on the ice, making sure pucks get deep, keeping one guy on the ice to make sure they don't get a clean play that allows the D to get off allow us to stay fresher, be a little more intense.
"When you get those long shifts you start to sag a little bit, you start to tire out. That's counterproductive to what we're trying to accomplish.
Gorges makes a splash
Gorges was quick to make himself noticed in his return from a nine-game absence on Saturday, first with a flattening hit on former teammate Brendan Gallagher in open ice and then with a fight against Montreal defenseman Jordie Benn.
Afterward, Housley said the hit served as a spark for the Sabres' bench.
"That's part of my game," Gorges said. "Not necessarily the fighting aspect, but being physical and doing what I can to spark the team, winning battles and hits and all those types of little things. I don't think you go out of your way to run around, but I think I know I've got to be there as a presence when need be."
Sabres reassign Bailey to Rochester
The Sabres reassigned forward Justin Bailey to Rochester after practicing with the team on Monday. Bailey scored two goals and an assist in seven games with Buffalo, but had not returned to the lineup since sustaining a lower-body injury on Nov. 2.
Bailey ranked third on the Amerks with 23 goals in 52 games last season.
Marco Scandella woke up under the weather and did not practice with the team on Monday. Housley said he expects Scandella to be in the lineup in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
With Scandella absent, here's how the lines and defensive pairs looked at practice:
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Jordan Nolan - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
95 Justin Bailey - 25 Seth Griffith
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
93 Victor Antipin - 41 Justin Falk
4 Josh Gorges - 82 Nathan Beaulieu