From top to bottom, Dan Bylsma said he was impressed with his team's effort in their 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. He reiterated those comments on Wednesday, going so far as to say that their comeback effort in the second and third periods was as fierce as he's seen his team play.
"I really think that was the hardest we've pushed and the hardest we've played, aggressively going after a win," he said. "I think they had two scoring chances the rest of the game. We had them on the ropes. They flipped a lot of pucks out of the glass and played a responsible road game but we were pushing hard at them."
The real highlight of the Sabres' tenacity, however, was the consistency with which they brought it. It started at the top with the line of Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, who produced the Sabres' first goal and combined for 19 shot attempts in total, and trickled down throughout the lineup.
Take the line of line of Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta, for example. Gionta fed Larsson for Buffalo's second goal of the second period, but they also served in their usual role of menacing other teams' top lines to the point of frustration.
Such an instance could be found with five minutes remaining in the third period on Tuesday. Foligno, who used his size as a weapon on the forecheck throughout the game, engaged in a battle for the puck in the corner and was soon joined by Gionta. New York kicked it out to Brady Skjei at the end wall, but Larsson was there to engage him and get the puck back to Gionta in the corner.
Gionta flipped it out of the corner back to Larsson, who sent the puck back to the blue line to extend the possession. Larsson repositioned to the slot and, on the way, drew an interference penalty against second-line center Derek Stepan that gave Buffalo a chance to tie the game on the power play.
"I think every line was doing their job," Foligno said. "It seemed like those last 30 minutes were the hardest we've worked against a really good team … for us to be on their D, cause turnovers, get pucks to the net, it was something that was kind of continuous throughout all four lines and it was definitely good to see."
Even those with limited opportunities found ways to make an impact. Daniel Catenacci played only two shifts in the third period, but his speed on the forecheck still ended up creating a scoring chance. He stole the puck at off the left-wing wall, won a battle on the right-wing wall and danced around with the puck behind the net to get it back to the D all in a span of 20 seconds on his final shift.
Seconds later, Mark Pysyk was flinging the puck to the front of the net for a scoring opportunity thanks to the work of Catenacci and linemates Cal O'Reilly and Nicolas Deslauriers to extend the play.
"I've always been an all-around forward but right now I'm on the fourth line and that's to create energy and try and play in their zone," Catenacci said. "Make it hard on their D and obviously try to chip in with any offense you can have, but the main thing is to play hard and use my speed."
They took zero points in the standing from the regulation loss, but their effort at the very least serves as a blue print for future games, including their next meeting with the Rangers – which, by the way, is on April 2 at Madison Square Garden.
"We work hard every game and we know we can compete with any team in the League," Catenacci said. "We knew we had a great chance to win and that's why we never stopped coming. Being tenacious and playing in their zone is how you create offense, and that's what we did."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Foligno received a 10-minute misconduct with one-minute remaining on Tuesday when he argued after J.T. Miller scored an empty-net goal to all but end Buffalo's comeback hopes. Foligno was arguing with a referee about a play that appeared to be uncalled icing against the Rangers 40 seconds earlier.
The referee believed the puck had hit Deslauriers, who was near it when it was cleared from the Sabres' end.
"I saw as a guy trying to shoot for an empty-net and that's icing," he said Wednesday. "If it didn’t result in scoring I probably wouldn't have lost my cool but it's a crucial part of the game and it's one simple call that we get a faceoff, we get a timeout, we might make up a play and who knows, right?"
Bylsma agreed with Foligno that the puck hadn't in fact touched any of his players, but wasn't willing to attribute the loss to one missed call.
"From what we know it didn’t hit him," Bylsma said. "Linemen make the calls all night long. Whether it did or did not, it's disappointing. I didn’t know why it wasn’t an icing but they didn’t blow the whistle, they said it got tipped, that's the call he made. That’s not the reason why we lost the game."
and Cody Franson
, each out with injuries since Feb. 12, both were spectators at practice on Wednesday. Franson is currently nursing an injury to his neck while O'Reilly is approaching week three of a lower-body injury with a 3-to-4 week timetable for recovery.
"Cody is progressing; we’d like to see him possibly going out with the team, getting on the ice soon," Bylsma said. "Ryan, again, his three-week period from his injury is Friday so that will be another point in his progression."