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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

Only six defensemen took the ice for the Buffalo Sabres at practice on Monday morning at First Niagara Center. Cody Franson was absent for what Sabres coach Dan Bylsma called a “maintenance day” and Zach Bogosian was missing again as he continues to rehab from a lower-body injury.

Bylsma said that Franson is day-to-day, but would not rule him out for Wednesday’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Carlo Colaiacovo, who has been a healthy scratch for Buffalo’s last three games, filled in for Franson on a pair with Mike Weber in practice.

Bylsma also mixed up his lines again on Monday, leaving only the top line of Ryan O’Reilly between Sam Reinhart and Tyler Ennis intact. Jamie McGinn practiced alongside Evander Kane and Jack Eichel, Brian Gionta played on the right of Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons and Marcus Foligno returned to the spot opposite Nicolas Deslauriers.

David Legwand and Johan Larsson continued to alternate at center between Deslauriers and Foligno. The two centers each spent one of Buffalo’s two games in Florida over the weekend as a healthy scratch.

Buffalo had its fair share of opportunities in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay. Nobody created more opportunities than Tyler Ennis, who put a game-high seven shots on goal.

Five games into the season, Ennis ranks 11th in the League with 22 shots. He’s averaging 4.4 shots per game, up from his career average of 2.37. His highest shot total through the first five games of a season before this year was 13 in 2012-13.

Ennis could have expected to excel offensively with a new cast of players around him, but his increase in chances is also the product of a self-motivated effort to put the puck to the net more often.

“I’ve been trying to shoot it a little more,” Ennis said. “I think when I’m thinking ‘shot’ I’ve been in the game a little more; it opens up a little bit more for me. I know I like to be a pass-first guy, but sometimes I think my way out of chances so I’m trying to shoot it a little more.”

Ennis said that he still thinks of himself as that pass-first guy, and so far his shooting hasn’t forced him to sacrifice creating chances for his teammates. His assist in the first period against Tampa Bay came as a product of him chasing his own shot behind the net, from where he fed Sam Reinhart with a behind-the-back pass.

Later in the game, he almost had another assist had Reinhart been able to connect on a puck in front of an open net.

Bylsma said that Ennis’ shooting habits are in fact creating more chances for his teammates to score.

“Well, we’re encouraging it,” the coach said. “These five games in person I’ve thought he’s played three outstanding games creating and playing in the offensive zone … Him getting the puck to the net for his linemates has been a part of it.”

Now, Bylsma would like to see the rest of the team follow suit.

“Twelve or less scoring chances against and 15 plus scoring chances is a good indicator in the game. We’ve been there for three out of the [five] for sure,” he said. “That’s a good thing. I still think we can do a much better job in that regard, getting pucks and having more of a mentality of getting pucks to the net and having more people at the net to cash in on those opportunities.”

Buffalo took another step in that direction on Saturday in Tampa when the Sabres outshot the Lightning 32-22. But with all of the opportunities they created, they only managed to score one goal for the third time this season.

Similarly, Ennis has only scored one goal on his 22 shot attempts. But for both him and the Sabres, he says, the goals will come as long as they continue to support each other and simplify things offensively.

“We’re getting a lot of shots, we’re playing hard,” Ennis said. “I think maybe we’re gripping it a little too tight but it will come. We have a lot of time.”

23 Sam Reinhart – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 88 Jamie McGinn
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand/22 Johan Larsson – 82 Marcus Foligno

4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 3 Mark Pysyk
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 6 Mike Weber

31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen

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