With two road games against a pair of the NHL's toughest opponents coming up this week, the Buffalo Sabres are looking to find consistency in their all-around game.
Monday's practice at KeyBank Center had a little bit of everything. Special teams work, 5-on-5 play and some shootout work. The Sabres will have to be sharp in all aspects of their game for the next two games: at Madison Square Garden for a match against the New York Rangers on Tuesday and at United Center for a contest on Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"This is a road trip that we're playing two of the best teams in the league," alternate captain Josh Gorges said. "It's gut-check time. It's time for us to find out what we're made of as a group and as individuals."
Buffalo takes on the Rangers on NBCSN at 7 p.m. tomorrow night. The last time they played, the Sabres won 4-3 on home ice as Jack Eichel scored twice in the third period to put Buffalo on top.
"When we look back at that game and think about it, we didn't do anything fancy," Gorges said. "We came to work. We knew what we were up against. We knew we were playing a team that you've got to have one of your best games and tomorrow's no different. We've got to be at our best."
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
The Sabres are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games and complicating matters has been the current injury situation. During their loss to the Bruins on Saturday, they were without William Carrier (finger) and lost Gorges for a large chunk of the game due to a hip injury.
Johan Larsson took a hit into the end boards early on and dislocated his wrist and elbow. He had surgery in Boston to repair the injuries and was on his way back to Buffalo this morning. He's out indefinitely, according to Bylsma.
Ryan O'Reilly has also missed the past three games due to an appendectomy and Dmitry Kulikov has missed the last two with a lower-back injury.
With both Larsson and O'Reilly out, defensively, the Sabres will be looking at some different looks when it comes to matchups concerning the center position.
Sam Reinhart has moved to center in O'Reilly's absence and the roles of Zemgus Girgensons and Derek Grant have elevated. Bylsma said that Girgensons will take on the defensive zone responsibilities once primarily held by Larsson. Eichel, meanwhile, will have to contend with whatever the opposition throws at him, especially because the Rangers and Blackhawks will have the last change.
"It changes the situation fairly dramatically in terms of matchups and situations, especially on the road for these two games," Bylsma said. "Zemgus will kind of assume the position Lars was in - a little bit of the defensive situations, he'll be favored playing in. And Jack's going to get the matchup against whoever they see fit. On the road, that's going to be the challenge for him."
And speaking of matchupda, Brian Duff caught up with Rasmus Ristolainen, who is usually tasked with handling the other team's top players:
Video: Sabres in :90 (1/2/17)
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 23 Sam Reinhart - 56 Justin Bailey
48 William Carrier - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Justin Falk - 6 Cody Franson
Ennis practiced with the team in a limited capacity yesterday, but had a scheduled day off the ice on Monday and did not practice.
Kulikov (lower back) was also absent from practice for the second straight day and was seeing a doctor today. Bylsma said he will have an update on Kulikov on Tuesday.
Gorges said that he felt better today at practice after missing yesterday's session.
Bylsma also gave an update on Rochester Americans forward Hudson Fasching, who has not played since Oct. 30. After recovering from a groin injury while with the Sabres, he was sent down, but re-injured it soon thereafter. Bylsma said that Fasching has been skating on his own the past few days and that is hopefully a good sign that he can return to game action soon.
The Sabres are not currently carrying any extra healthy bodies so Bylsma said that they'll consider making a recall or two for the road trip.