LOS ANGELES - In the last two games alone, the Buffalo Sabres have showed both the type of play that has allowed them to compete with any team in the League at times this season (in the last two periods against Columbus on Saturday) and also the type of play that has prevented them from establishing any sort of consistency (in San Jose on Tuesday).
With 12 games remaining on their schedule, the aim for the Sabres going forward after a practice in El Segundo, Calif. on Wednesday is proving to themselves that they can play the way they did against Columbus day in and day out.
"We've got to find consistency in the way we play, find an identity that we can build off and that we have as a foundation, as a team and as an organization," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "That's what the goal would be coming down the stretch here."
The problem that plagued the Sabres in their loss to San Jose was simple: the Sharks dominated the possession game, which was a product of Buffalo's puck management. The struggles managing the puck, Gionta said, stemmed from a lack of support up the ice.
"Everyone says make more plays, make more plays, but it's about support," Gionta said. "If the support isn't there, the play's not there to be made. You need to support each other on the forecheck in order to get it back, support each other in the D-zone to get it out. It's little things like that."
"We get glimpses of it each game, the consistency of it isn't there," alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly added. "We're working hard and you see guys, they want to make the right plays, but it's just there's certain times where you just get caught thinking.
"Everyone's trying to do the right thing, we're working, everyone's trying to get to the right areas but we're just a split second behind. You see how it shows, the way we get hemmed in or the way we're not crisp."
If you're looking for an example of puck support, look no further than Buffalo's opponent on Tuesday. The Sharks are an established contender in the League, and Gionta said they played the style of game that the Sabres are looking to achieve.
"They're a veteran team that moves well up and down the ice," Gionta said. "If you look at their game, it's not much different than what everyone else is doing. You're coming over and supporting with two, three guys, you've got options of where to go with the puck.
"They made our D go back the other night. Everyone says make plays, but a lot of it is just getting it by their D and being supportive on the forecheck."
The difficulty of becoming a perennial contender like the Sharks, or like Buffalo's next two opponents in Los Angeles and Anaheim, might be the single biggest lesson to take away from this season.
"I think for ourselves, you don't just wake up one year and decide you're going to win a Stanley Cup, decide you're going to be a competing team," O'Reilly said. "It's tough to make a jump in the standings each year and make a push. For us, it's not over yet. We've got a lot to prove to ourselves, that we can play and beat these teams.
"No matter who we play each night, we've got to show that we're better and we should be in the playoffs, that it should be our run this year. That's something we have to prove constantly.
Justin Bailey and Justin Falk were both absent from practice due to injuries. Bailey was hurt blocking a shot in San Jose on Tuesday and is questionable for the game in Los Angeles, while Falk will be out for the remainder of the road trip with a calf injury. The Sabres will recall a defenseman to replace Falk in the lineup.
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
If Bailey is unable to play, expect Hudson Fasching to step into the lineup in his place. Fasching skated on a line with Marcus Foligno and Evan Rodrigues in practice.
Here's how the full lineup looked on Wednesday:
9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 52 Hudson Fasching
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 63 Tyler Ennis
29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
4 Josh Gorges - 6 Cody Franson
44 Nicolas Deslauriers (substituting for Falk) - 47 Zach Bogosian
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson