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Franson, defensemen contributing to Sabres' success

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

DALLAS - The Buffalo Sabres are riding a three-game win streak - with all three victories coming in overtime - and they've been able to do it with contributions from all over the lineup. 

As Brian Duff noted in the latest edition of #Duffalo this morning, it's been a very good month for the Sabres. They're 7-3-1 in January and will look to carry that into tomorrow night's game against the Stars.

Here's what he wrote today:
Prior to the calendar flip the team was averaging just 2.1 goals per game. My belief was always that they needed to get that number closer to 2.7 for the season to have any realistic chance of staying in the race.

Well, an average of 3.3 goals per game this month has the season mark now at 2.43. And should they sustain the January pace, they would end the season at 2.80 which would likely make things awfully interesting in April.   

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

Thirteen different skaters have tallied points over the last three games, including five of the top six defensemen in the lineup. 

Cody Franson has led the way in production of late on the blue line. He's riding a three-game point streak in which he has one goal and three assists. He had two assists in last night's 5-4 come-from-behind overtime win in Nashville. 

"He's been playing well. I thought we've had some good offensive zone shifts and broke out the puck pretty well coming out of our own end," his defensive partner Zach Bogosian said on Wednesday after practice at The Stars Rink at Dr Pepper Arena. "It's been good. It seems like we've complimented each other pretty well out there. It gives me room to skate. He's such a good puck mover so it's been fun."

Franson has been up over 21 minutes in each of the last four games, but he's also being relied upon in all situations with Jake McCabe and Josh Gorges out due to injury, and Dmitry Kulikov now working his way back into the lineup after missing extensive time.

"You get the chance to play the bigger minutes more consistently, you start to feel better about your game and confident in what you're doing," Franson said. "I've felt pretty confident for a while now so luckily it's starting to get those bounces and guys are burying the rebounds that are there."

Speaking of burying rebounds, take, for instance, the sequence that led Jack Eichel's first goal of the game, which made it 2-2 late in the second period. 

Video: BUF@NSH: Eichel ties game with timely rebound goal

 "Talk about adding offense from the point or adding offense from the defensemen, I think there's this idea of up in the rush or Paul Coffey-ish and doing that to get more goals and even take more chances," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "But, that [goal]'s a good indicator of where we've gotten a lot better at as a five-man offense, pounding the puck in the offensive zone, possessing it."

With 47.9 seconds remaining, Eichel lost the offensive zone faceoff to goaltender Juuse Saros' right.

Buffalo, however, was able to gain possession of the puck almost immediately and set up shop in the Predators zone, getting all five players on the ice - Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Marcus Foligno, Bogosian and Franson involved in the action. 

After the draw, Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis tried to clear it out along the boards, but it was intercepted by Eichel along the left-wing halfwall and Buffalo went to work. Eichel passed the puck back to Bogosian at the point, who fired the puck in around the endboards. Saros was unable to handle it behind the net, and it went around to Reinhart at the right halfwall. 

Reinhart moved the puck in the corner to Foligno, who alone was able to hold onto the pick for almost 10 seconds along the boards before squaring up and sending a cross-ice pass to Bogosian at the left point. 

Bogosian, this time, shot the puck on net and the rebound came to Reinhart in front, who put the puck into the left-wing corner as Buffalo reset. Eichel too the puck and again passed it back to Bogosian. 

Expecting another shot, James Neal went down to attempt to block the slapper and Mike Ribeiro moved out of his lane at top of the zone, which opened up a critical passing lane. Bogosian wound up like he was going to put a rocket on net, but instead passed the puck across to Franson.

"I tried to wait it out," Bogosian said. "I shot the first one maybe 10 seconds before that, and I was hoping that maybe they thought I was going to shoot it again. And they bit on it. I just tried to be patient and have some poise with the puck. Cody slid into the right area and I was lucky to make that pass."

Franson's shot, directed at Saros' right pad, caromed off it and went right to Eichel, who was waiting for it. Eichel buried the rebound into the open net to tie the game. In all, the Buffalo cycle lasted 30.5 seconds.

"That play shows a little bit, hopefully, of what Cody and I can bring to the blue line offensively," Bogosian said. "It's nice to have plays like that and it was a big goal for us. Jack ended up in the right area and that's what smart hockey players do - they find the right areas and the soft spots and that was a big goal for us."

Because it can be so difficult to score on the athletic goaltenders in the league these days, Franson estimates that 90 percent of his shots are taken with the purpose of setting up a scoring chance as opposed to trying to hit the back of the net. He figures that if he can place the puck in the right areas or generate a rebound or deflection, his teammates will have better odds at finding twine.

So how did Eichel know to be in that spot at that moment? Because they experienced a similar play in the first period.

"In the first period, I had a shot where I had Jack coming off the halfwall. I wasn't really trying to beat him from there," Franson said. "I tried to throw it off his right pad so it would kick out to Jack. I think it was in a timeout where I told him, 'I just tried to put in an area where I knew you guys were coming from.' 

"It was kind of the same thing in the second period there on Jack's goal. I knew he was planted off to the side and we had a good screen in front so I tried to throw it off that far pad so it would come back out in his area. Jack's got a very wide shooting zone. He can get a good shot away from a lot of different positions so I just tried to put it in his general area."

As Eichel explains it, when the time came for them to try that play again, he was just trying to position himself to get a shot off while the rest of the five-man unit moved the puck around.

"He does shoot the puck really hard so it definitely hits the goalie and comes right back out. In the first period, I kind of drifted to the other side. It hit his pad and went right where it was," Eichel said. "So in the second period, I made a quick adjustment and it's great puck possession by Moose in the corner. Bogo makes a heck of a play at the blue line to get his guy down and slide it over. 

"I just tried to get lost and they don't come much easier than that one. It's right on your stick. It's a great play by a couple of guys and I just happened to be the beneficiary."

More than anything, Franson credited the poise shown by Bogosian for the goal.

"That was a great play by Bogo. That was a hell of a fake," he said. "He drew two guys to him. The guy that was checking me came out and tried to get in between us. Bogo sold it and I just popped out a little lower and he made a great play. That whole play, I think, starts with Bohgs."   


Parents' Trip continues

It's a special time for the team as well because they have their loved ones along for this two-game road trip. Duffer has more on that in today's Sabres in :90.

Video: Sabres in :90 (1/25/17)

Wednesday's practice

63 Tyler Ennis - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo 
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta 
44 Nicolas Deslauriers / 48 William Carrier - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson

77 Dmitry Kulikov - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson 
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun
34 Casey Nelson

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson

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