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Sabres continue to stress need for net-front presence

Okposo rests; Girgensons has chemistry with Eichel

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

LOS ANGELES - Upon further review of the Buffalo Sabres' 3-2 loss in San Jose on Thursday night, Phil Housley got the sense his team had taken a step toward becoming the team they want to be. The next step lies in the details. 

"We're close, but we're so far away because of our attention to detail," Housley said. "It has to get better. It has to be a 60-minute effort, maybe it's 65 minutes. We're putting something together, but we've still got to build our game."

The Sabres continued to work on some of those details during a practice at the Los Angeles Kings' facility in El Segundo, California on Friday afternoon. One particular area of focus remained at the net-front, an area the Sabres have struggled with so far in the young season.

Video: Sabres Now (10/13/17) 

Robin Lehner knows firsthand what traffic at the net-front can do to disrupt a goaltender. He said after the game on Thursday that the Sharks had outperformed the Sabres in that regard, which could have been the difference in a contest in which the two teams were separated by a single shot on goal. 

Housley echoed his goalie's thoughts, and drills at practice on Friday saw the Sabres working on getting bodies to the net.

"We work on it every day," Housley said. "We worked on it again today. It's a niche that guys make livings off of, being in front of the net. You look at some of the best net-front guys who find a way to get sticks on pucks and redirects, and just getting some dirty goals on rebound or a second opportunity. We have to get hungry in that area."

Getting the dirty goals might be what it will take for the Sabres to receive the secondary scoring they've lacked so far this season. All of their goals have come from three players, four apiece from Jason Pominville and Evander Kane and one from Jack Eichel. Both of their goals in San Jose were scored on the rush.

Establishing a presence at the net-front is two-fold; it requires forwards to sacrifice their bodies and defensemen to take enough shots to make it worth their while. But it's a necessary sacrifice, and one Housley will continue to preach as the Sabres search for their first win of the season.

Video: After Practice: HOUSLEY

"I don't care if it's in their nature," Housley said. "If you want to score goals, you want to score points, you've got to get there. When it's your job to get there, you're the low forward and it's required, you have to get there whether it's just a fly by to get in front of the goalies eyes and make it difficulty or mainly just planting yourself there."

"I think it's just a mentality," Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons added. "I think anyone can do it. There's nothing to it, you just get in front of the net and pay the price."

 

Girgensons enjoys chemistry with Eichel

Housley placed Girgensons on a line with Eichel and Pominville for Thursday's game, and he was a key cog in their two-goal performance. Girgensons earned assists on both of Pominville goals, first with a pass on the rush and then with his wall play on the breakout. 

"I think it's a little bit of everything," Girgensons said. "Jack is just unbelievable, he can create plays, and Pommer's just a good finisher and they can do the dirty week. I think it was a good combo."

Housley said he liked what he saw from the line even beyond the two goals they scored, and thus they stayed together at practice on Friday.

"I have no problem with what Zemgus brings every day," Housley said. "His work ethic is really remarkable. I think we're trying to get Jack and him some chemistry. I thought they had a really good game yesterday, not because they scored, I didn't think the puck was in their zone a lot."

 

Friday's practice

Kyle Okposo did not skate on Friday. He woke up feeling under the weather and thus missed the team's morning skate in San Jose on Thursday, but still managed to play against the Sharks that night. 

"We just needed to give him the day off," Housley said. "I thought he had a good game and grinded it out, the way he felt, so just trying to get him rested and get his energy back."

Here's how the lines and pairs looked in Okposo's absence, with Matt Moulson taking his spot on the wing alongside Kane and Ryan O'Reilly: 

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

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 5 Matt Tennyson / 93 Victor Antipin
4 Josh Gorges - 19 Jake McCabe

40 Robin Lehner 
31 Chad Johnson

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