An otherwise promising first day of practice for the Sabres also came with some injury news Friday morning at First Niagara Center. The team announced that defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen
will be out for the first 10-14 days of Training Camp due to an upper-body injury and that forward Cody McCormick
is out indefinitely after failing his physical.
According to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, the failed physical is related to the blood clots that ended McCormick’s season in January.
Bylsma said that Ristolainen’s injury did not come to light until the last couple of days, but he also expressed optimism that the young defenseman will still have time to benefit from preseason action.
“He can work out off the ice; he is participating off the ice in meetings and everything that’s going on off the ice,” Bylsma said. “It is 10-14 days, we hope his return is somewhere in that timeframe, we’ll still have quite a bit of time to get on the ice, to go through practices and be in a good amount of exhibition games if that’s the case.”
Ristolainen contributed eight goals and 12 assists while playing as one of the Sabres’ top defensemen last season. McCormick played in 33 games, tallying one goal and three assists.
‘NOT TOO MANY WATER BREAKS’
Players and coaches have talked throughout the summer about the fast-paced style of play that Bylsma plans to implement not only at the NHL level, but throughout the organization. That style will translate into practice too, and on Friday, the Sabres veterans were raving about the level of speed and intensity in their first practice under the new head coach.
“Yeah, I think that starts with Dan and his staff,” Moulson said. “They let us know it was going to be a high-paced year. We’re going to play at a high pace, practice at a high pace and with intensity. I think you saw that right from the get-go, not too many water breaks out there and that’s the only way you get better.”
Weber, who’s been with the organization since being drafted by the Sabres in 2006, was all smiles at the podium after practice. He said that management told the players at the end of last season that they would do what it takes to field a competitive roster; seeing them hold up their end of the bargain makes this season different than most.
“To finally walk through these doors in a different atmosphere, a different mindset, I can’t stop smiling today,” Weber said. “It’s hard, it’s been a lot of hard work today that some of us aren’t used to -- to moving that way, to playing fast, the way we should be playing the game here in the National Hockey League. It’s exciting to be out here and still be a part of this organization and a part of this team and be finally trending upwards to where we should be.”
“I thought it was an excellent day,” Bylsma said. “We wanted to go out on the ice and practice with pace and speed and push it up the ice, which I think they did a really good job of. And again, we got right to how we want to play if we want to be a good defensive team and a hard team to play against.”
Another noticeable difference in the Sabres first practice of camp was the amount of talking that took place on the ice. Weber said that he “couldn’t believe” how much Robin Lehner was talking in net, and especially praised the vocal leadership of Ryan O’Reilly.
“The good teams in this league, the teams that win championships, the teams that go deep every single season are the teams that talk it out of the zone and that’s one of the things that was stressed at 8 o’clock this morning in the first video session,” Weber said.
ZEMGUS GIRGENSONS, WINGMAN
One of the questions going into camp was whether Zemgus Girgensons would center one of the Sabres’ top three lines or make a position switch to utilize his talent on the right wing. At least in the early going, it seems to be the latter – Girgensons played the wing on Friday, with Jack Eichel as center and Moulson on the left.
Bylsma spoke to Girgensons about playing on the wing over the summer and he’s embraced the role to start the season.
But his position is not yet set in stone – Bylsma said that we can expect the team to experiment with other line combinations throughout camp, including moving Sam Reinhart to the wing or even playing Eichel and Reinhart on the same line.
Bylsma liked what he saw from Reinhart at the wing position both in the latter portion of the team’s final Prospects Challenge game against Boston and in tape from his time in Rochester.
Bylsma said that his reasoning behind starting Girgensons on the wing with Eichel was to offer the rookie protection in the defensive zone.
“You’re offering some protection in the center position to have Zemgus on Jack’s wing. So in a D-zone faceoff if it’s a matchup on the road, you have a real solid player down low; he could take the draw, he could play that spot and have Jack take the wing as we come out of D-zone coverage,” Bylsma said, adding that veterans Brian Gionta and Jamie McGinn provide the same advantage on Reinhart’s line.
Having watched Girgensons during the team’s unorganized practices ahead of camp and after playing with him on Friday, Eichel already noticed the skill of his new linemate.
“I think he’s one of the hardest-working players, he obviously competes extremely hard on the ice and he’s super-skilled,” Eichel said. “If you watch him, he’s kind of always in the right position, making the smart play.”
The Sabres got right into game action on Monday, holding a scrimmage between their first two practice groups in-between their respective practice sessions. The group led by a line of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Ennis defeated the group led by Moulson, Eichel and Girgensons 4-3 in a shootout.
The trio of Kane, O’Reilly and Ennis showed off their skill throughout the scrimmage. Ennis and O'Reilly both scored in the shootout to seal the victory, and O’Reilly scored twice more in regulation. Defenseman Mark Pysyk also scored for the winning team, while Eric Cornel, Justin Kea and Patrick Kaleta (on a penalty shot) scored in the losing effort.
EICHEL’S PLAYING TIME
Eichel will play in one of the Sabres’ first two preseason games, at Minnesota on Monday or home against Ottawa on Wednesday, Bylsma said. After that, the coach said, the top pick will have to earn additional playing time.
ENNIS’ WORLDLY EXPERIENCE
Tyler Ennis said Friday that he learned a lot from his experience playing for team Canada in the World Championship this summer, including the talent-level of O’Reilly.
“I talked to [Sabres General Manager Tim Murray] about maybe [O’Reilly’s] just a guy we could use, definitely a building block for the future for sure,” Ennis said. “He’s a guy every team could use and you know you saw out there today, he played great.”
CIRCLE THE WAGONS
Moulson, a noted Bills fan, seemed to draw inspiration from his experience at the Ralph Wilson Stadium for the team’s season-opening win over the Colts.
“You can see the hype around the Bills when they get a big first win; you can feel the energy in that stadium and you see the excitement around the city,” he said. “This city is dying for a team to win. Hopefully we can both accomplish that and I don’t think there’s a much more fun city to win in than Buffalo.”