In the second period of Buffalo's game in New Jersey on Saturday night, William Carrier made a play that exemplified the combination of speed and physicality that has shown in his brief time in the NHL.
Carrier dumped the puck into the offensive zone and blew by defenseman Ben Lovejoy to retrieve it on the forecheck. He then wrapped around the net and passed to Zemgus Girgensons to create a scoring chance from the slot.
Clearly, his coaches took notice. On his very next shift, Carrier skated on the top line alongside Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo, where he spent the majority of the remainder of the game. He skated there again at practice on Monday at HarborCenter.
"I just think he works extremely hard and makes those good plays, plays the game the right way," Okposo said. "He's a young kid, that's what you need. He's got some confidence out there and he's doing the right things. I think his play probably warrants a move up in the lineup."
It wasn't Carrier's first play of that nature in the game. He'd already shown a propensity to be strong on the puck, using his body to maintain possession on multiple entries while beating defenders along the boards. One such play led to the high-sticking call against Jacob Josefson that earned the Sabres their only power play of the game. Having the confidence to make such plays with the puck, he said, is a key to his game.
Whether Carrier sticks on the top line remains to be seen, and might even depend on the availability of Ryan O'Reilly, whose eventual return from injury could result in a return to the wing for Reinhart. But the fact that Carrier remained in Buffalo when three other players were reassigned to play for Rochester on Sunday is a sign of where he stands with the team after four games.
"Will has played extremely, extremely well, been really effective," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "Speed, he's been really physical, and he has gotten in the mix on offensive chances … Whether he plays on a line with Sam and Kyle or he's playing on the fourth line or playing on the third line, which he did for two of the games, he needs to continue to play that way."
The only thing Carrier hasn't done to this point is score, but that's not for a lack of chances. He missed a good chance in the crease at home against New Jersey on Friday but has shown a willingness and an ability to make his presence felt at the net-front. On Saturday, his support on the breakout led to a 2-on-1 opportunity between him and Zemgus Girgensons.
"Just keep playing the way I'm playing," Carrier said when asked about what he'd like to bring going forward. "Bring some speed, go outside D's, bring the puck to the net, stuff like that. Hopefully get my first goal sometime soon."
Carrier and the Sabres return to action on the road against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. Coverage begins with the TOPS Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 8 p.m.
Video: Sabres in :90 (11/14/16)
The penalty problems that have hampered the Sabres have proven to be two-fold in recent games. On one hand, they've taken five or more penalties in three of their last four games, several of which have been stick penalties. Not only does that burn out their penalty killers, but it takes away from their offensive zone time.
"We've got to stay out of the box," Okposo said. "That's something that needs to be addressed and needs to be executed. There are some penalties that you have to take and other ones that are just undisciplined penalties. We've got to stay away from the undisciplined ones."
On the other hand, the Sabres have also struggled to draw penalties as of late. They only had one power play in New Jersey on Saturday, which was cut short by a high-sticking call against Evander Kane, and only had four opportunities in the two games prior.
Generating chances with an extra man is particularly important for a team currently playing with its top two centers in O'Reilly and Jack Eichel, the latter of whom has yet to see the ice this season due to a high-ankle sprain.
"Maybe the biggest surprise is we haven't gotten to the power play as much as we need to get opportunities to score there," Bylsma said. "We should be playing a way that teams have to take penalties against us so that we do get to the power play to get penalties to score. Given the lineup that we have, we need to manufacture goals in a hard and difficult way."
Neither O'Reilly nor Dmitry Kulikov participated in practice. O'Reilly has missed two of the last three games due to injury; Kulikov has missed three in a row. Both players are day-to-day. Bylsma said that O'Reilly remains a possibility to travel with the team to St. Louis, but Kulikov will not.
With Nicholas Baptiste, Cole Schneider and Justin Falk having been reassigned to Rochester on Sunday morning, Bylsma said that the Sabres will likely recall two forwards and a defenseman prior to their game on Tuesday.
Lines at practice
48 William Carrier - 23 Sam Reinhart - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson /28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
9 Evander Kane - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson
Defensemen: 4 Josh Gorges, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 29 Jake McCabe, 6 Cody Franson, 34 Casey Nelson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson