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DUFF'S NOTES: TWO PRESEASON GAMES IN

by Brian Duff / Buffalo Sabres

(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)

A day off has arrived for those that remain in Sabres training camp.

For some, it marks the end of a busy week, one that unusually featured the opening preseason game on Sunday, after just two non-scrimmage practices. For those who were in Traverse City, it’s the culmination of a two-week sprint.

The Sabres are back in action Friday. The non-game group will take the ice at 9 a.m. at First Niagara Center and the game group will have a morning skate at 10:30 a.m. All on-ice practice sessions are open to the public.

Buffalo faces off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m.

Here are some observations of individuals to date...


GOALTENDERS

Jhonas Enroth – Confident on and off the ice. I like how he looks when it comes to positioning and posture. And how can anyone find fault in a 35-save shutout? Kudos to him for his nod to Grant Fuhr on his new mask, too.

Matt Hackett – Perhaps still a couple months from returning to game action from a serious end of season knee injury, but what a testament to his rehab and his desire to see him on the ice going through basic mechanics.

Nathan Lieuwen – Also unhealthy at season’s end (concussion), he really looked in control of his game Sunday againat Washington. And yet he still wasn’t at all satisfied with 24 saves on 25 shots. His post game comments were strong and convincing.

Andrey Makarov – A difficult week in Traverse City, but that’s behind him now through a good week of practice in Buffalo.

Michal Neuvirth – Awesome new mask that pays tribute to The Dominator, and looking very fluid in practice despite no game action yet. For whatever reason – new pads, technique, etc. – he appears larger than the 6-foot-1 goalie I recall from last year’s two-game cameo with the club.


DEFENSEMEN

Andre Benoit – The only defenseman among the handful of skaters who has appeared in both preseason games to date. Averaging 22 minutes per night, he’s amassed the most penalty kill time – and the Sabres are 6/6 on the PK so far. He’s animated – whether in practice or games – and that should be a bonus for a team that has been mentioned as quiet in recent years.

Ironically, I had just made note of his loud communication towards Joel Armia in the first period against the Capitals, as he tried to warn the winger of an oncoming forechecker while in the Sabres zone. Armia heeded the warning, made a down-low play to Benoit, before the Sabres unfortunately ran into trouble about 8 seconds later resulting in the games’ only goal.

Still, for the majority of the time, that communication will pay dividends for Benoit and his mates.

Josh Gorges – A pro. You could hear it in his words after the morning skate on Tuesday, and it was reflected in his play that night. Coach Ted Nolan was quick to compliment the 22:43 of ice time put in by Gorges in his first preseason game in Blue & Gold.

Jake McCabe – Not at 100-percent health prior to game one at the prospect tournament, McCabe fought some puck handling issues and indecision during the week in Northern Michigan. But versus Carolina on Tuesday, he delivered likely the most poised game of his eight to date at the NHL level (he appeared in the final seven of last year’s regular season).

What stood out most Wednesday morning when speaking to him was his absolute relief to finally win a game in a Sabres uniform. He had gone winless in seven last season and winless in another four in Traverse City. Even though it’s only preseason, you can never fault a player for wanting to win.

Andrej Meszaros – Welcome to Buffalo, here’s your jersey, now go play 30 minutes. Considering his career average is 20:31 per game, I’d say Andrej handled Tuesday’s unexpected dilemma with aplomb.

Tyler Myers – Just about 26 minutes of good play against the Hurricanes. Always great to see him wind up in his own zone, make a spin move to avoid the forechecker and then exit the zone with ease as he did in the second period. A turnover by Myers was negated by a quick recovery to block a shot and despite the Sabres playing the game with five defensemen instead of six, you could see – when together – just how Gorges should have a nice impact on Myers’ overall game.

Mark Pysyk – 54 seconds, one blocked shot, one upper body injury. Day-to-day, says the coach.

Rasmus Ristolainen – Lauded by Amerks Coach Chadd Cassidy for the minutes he logged in Traverse, the same praise came his way from Ted Nolan after Sunday’s game in D.C. The physical difference in Ristolainen is obvious (he’s down roughly 20 pounds from his rookie season) but for me the maturity level was dramatically different as early as development camp in July.

He wants to do things the right way, and that’s why he’s already emerging as a positive influence among his peers. Keep an eye on his posture when he’s in the D-zone – head always up, in great position to react to anything.

Chad Ruhwedel – A bit of a rocky start to Sunday’s game in Washington evened out to a decent 18:04 on ice. The 24-year-old, smooth-skating D-man has 28 NHL games under his belt the last two seasons. Regardless of where he plays this year – Buffalo or Rochester – he remains an intriguing player to me.

Tyson Strachan – As advertised. Veteran defenseman brought in for depth on the farm, he’ll do whatever it takes to help, including taking a solid punch from Tim Spencer of the Caps but kept on going.

Mike Weber – Led the team in hits and blocked shots against Washington. This is a recording…

Nikita Zadorov – The rookie tournament was not what he was hoping for, but it was a solid return to NHL preseason play on Sunday. Anxious to see his next game.


FORWARDS

Joel Armia – The points just never came for him (or his mates) in the prospect tournament. But in the practices since his game in Washington he may have found a different gear. We’ll see – hopefully this weekend.

Zac Dalpe – Drafted six years ago, Dalpe still hasn’t reached 100 NHL games played. But at the AHL level, he’s close to 0.8 points per game. One of four forwards to have played in both preseason games, Dalpe has caught my eye a number of times in various areas of the ice, and often in practice for a good release.

Nicolas Deslauriers – Has played both games as well and has five shots and seven hits to show for it. Always like the hustle and heaviness with which he plays.

Matt Ellis – Never stops trying. A great example for anyone to follow.

Tyler Ennis – Flying in practice and it carried over to his game against the ’Canes. A lot of talk about his off-season attention to detail in all zones, face-offs, etc. Could be the start of a nice season for 63, especially if he gains confidence from some added ice-time on the penalty kill.

Brian Flynn – In a heck of a battle one would think for those bottom six spots, Sunday’s uneven preseason opener for both teams wasn’t the best type of game for Flynn’s smart game to thrive in. He did persevere after having his face smushed into the boards late in the first period.

Brian Gionta – Serious. Committed. Responsible. Can’t be anything but a good influence.

Zemgus Girgensons – My early guess is he’s just a touch meaner than last year.

Mikhail Grigorenko – More mature, more muscle, more ready to be a pro. Very positive early strides taken, including in his skating. Liked his third period in particular with Brendan Lemieux and Patrick Kaleta on Tuesday, but over both games he showed more awareness in all zones, which had him in a better position to make positive plays.

Patrick Kaleta – Welcome back! The boards may still be rattling from one his attempted hits on a ’Cane, but overall, a solid 11:39 on ice after 10 months on the sidelines.

Vaclav Karabacek – Between the prospect tournament, practice, and preseason play, he’s shown a really nice offensive skill set.

Johan Larsson – Three shots, three hits, two takeaways in the game versus Washington. On a line with Dalpe and Torrey Mitchell, I liked his active stick on the forecheck.

Brendan Lemieux – From his first game in Traverse City until now, he’s gotten a little bit better each day. And it seems like the coaches see that too. Did not look at all out of place against the Hurricanes.

Torrey Mitchell – Did what he does versus the Caps – blocked shots, created turnovers, used his speed.

Matt Moulson – Appears ready to be a top line player again. Hard not to like his entire line throughout the win over Carolina.

Sam Reinhart – Two games, a little bit of the same in both. Learning the ropes, and progressing as the game moves on. Even at this early stage, makes more quietly positive plays than you might think. Has done a good job of putting himself in a position to take hits and battle while protecting the puck.

Tim Schaller – No games to date but the one guy I keep doing a double-take on in practice. Hearing nothing but good things about his development. Schaller finished his first year of pro strong with the Amerks.

Drew Stafford – Aside from his obvious joy of playing with Ennis and Moulson, his patience with the puck below the hash marks against Carolina was impressive. In a game that is so frenetic now, an extra half-second can make a massive difference in creating/finishing plays.

Chris Stewart – Be it in practice or in his one game to date, Stewart looks like a different player. And he told everyone he would be. Quicker, and setting a great example in practice, he’s also been making smart passes in tight areas, as well as spending ample time working on his shot.

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