Against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, Zemgus Girgensons centered Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart while rookie Sam Reinhart was with wings Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta.
Friday morning at practice at First Niagara Center, Girgensons and Reinhart flipped spots, closer resembling lines that were assembled for much of training camp. Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan figures putting Reinhart, the second-overall pick in 2014, with the bigger bodies like Foligno and Stewart will do him good for the team’s next game on Saturday in Chicago (8:30 p.m., MSG-B, Bell TV, WGR 550).
“Give the young kid a safety net around him with those two guys and get Gionta and Cody some speed in the middle,” Nolan said. “Girgensons was by far our best player last night.”
Girgensons scored Buffalo’s lone goal in the 3-1 loss to Columbus because he bee lined down the middle of the ice right to the net and lifted the puck over goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Nolan would have liked to see more plays go up and down the ice rather than across and for players to not pass up quality scoring opportunities. Columbus held a 78-39 edge in shot attempts.
“This is a close-knit team already, just going through it, and I think they’re being too generous with one another,” Nolan said. “They don’t want to be selfish – a couple times trying those rink-wide passes, hitting somebody wide open where you could’ve shot it and maybe have somebody fight for the rebound.
“I think we’ve just got to alter our train of thought and start going more north-south and start throwing pucks and people to the net.”
The line of Tyler Ennis between Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford generated a lot of offensive chances early. However, Ennis realizes they have to be able to sustain that pressure. Staying out of the penalty box would help achieve that.
“We had a lot of chances the first few shifts and then we kind of lost our mojo and we started taking a few penalties,” he said. “We got a little tired and they took over the momentum.”
Nolan attributed some of the struggles the team had to opening-night nerves.
“This is a competitive group. They really are. It was almost one of those deer-in-the-headlights looks,” he said. “There was just no drive, we had no jump. Hopefully this is just one of those jittery games we get out of our system and move forward.”
FRIDAY’S PRACTICE PARTICIPANTS
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 23 Sam Reinhart – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
61 Andre Benoit – 41 Andrej Meszaros
51 Nikita Zadorov – 24 Tyson Strachan
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Cody McCormick did not skate. He was given a maintenance day by the coaching staff but may travel with the team to Chicago.
Earlier in the day, the Sabres assigned forward Johan Larsson to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. He’d been recovering from an upper-body injury sustained on Sept. 28.