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Gorges looking to bring communication to back end in season debut

Okposo questionable for tonight; Kane to play 500th game

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

SAN JOSE - It's been nearly a decade since Josh Gorges last played a game for the San Jose Sharks, the team that signed him as undrafted free agent back in 2002 and gave him his start in the NHL four years later. 

But for all the time that's passed, Gorges said it still feels special coming back as he sat in the visiting dressing room at SAP Center on Thursday morning.

 "This is the team that gave me my chance," Gorges said. "I was a nobody that didn't really deserve a chance, and they gave me one."

Perhaps it's fitting, then, that Gorges gets a chance of a different sort in this city with the Buffalo Sabres tonight. Having sat as a healthy scratch through the first three games, Gorges will take Victor Antipin's place in the lineup and make his season debut against the Sharks. 

Video: BUF at SJS Preview (10/12/17)
 
It's been understandably difficult for Gorges, a veteran of 12 NHL seasons, to watch from the press box as the Sabres have gone winless so far in the young season. It's a mental adjustment, he admitted, but one that he's had no choice but to make the most of. Feeling sorry for himself would neither do him nor the team any good.

"To be honest, it sucks," Gorges said. "Any player would tell you that. You don't want to be sitting on the sidelines. You want to be in the battle, you want to be out there with your teammates doing what you can. So you come to work and show what you can do. Come to practice and when your get your chance, be ready to go."

With the Sabres having allowed six goals in back-to-back games, his chance has come early. Phil Housley has focused on execution on the breakout in recent practices, and he hopes that having Gorges' veteran presence will serve as a benefit in that regard.

Gorges will make his debut playing on a pair with Jake McCabe.

"Having that experience helps," Housley said. "I think he'll help Jake. I think anytime we can communicate as partners, I know how important that is especially when you're retrieving pucks. If you can alleviate pressure, beat that first forechecker and get that puck up ice it's going to be really important tonight and I think Josh can do that."

Video: PREGAME: Housley

"I think more so than anything, it's just being verbal on the ice," Gorges said. "This game is so fast today. The four guys that aren't touching the puck have to be letting the one guy that is touching the puck know what to do so when he gets it, it's an easy, smart play and you make that guy look like a genius by what the four other guys are doing. 

"If I can bring a little bit of that and help my partner out or help whoever's out on the ice, I'd like to think I can do that and hopefully we can all keep doing those little things because it's the little things that make a difference."

Jordan Nolan is also expected to rejoin the lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch for the past two games. Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres and be opposed by Martin Jones for the Sharks.

Coverage begins at 10 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10:30.

 

Okposo questionable with illness

Kyle Okposo did not participate in the morning skate due to an illness. Housley said that Okposo "definitely" remains a possibility to be in the lineup tonight. 

If Okposo doesn't play, expect Matt Moulson to fill in on the right wing alongside Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons are potential options to fill Okposo's spot on the power play. 

 

Kane's 500th

The contest will mark the 500th NHL game for Evander Kane, who's reached the milestone at the relatively young age of 26. Kane said his father texted him to remind him of the achievement early this morning. 

"Realistically without injuries and the lockout, I'd probably be at about 700 right now," Kane said. "But it's nice to come, it's a good milestone. I'm just looking forward to hopefully capping it off with a win."

It's true that Kane has dealt with his fair share of injuries, especially early in seasons. He had to wait until Dec. 3 to score his first goal last season after breaking his ribs on opening night and then admittedly rejoining the team too early. 

Healthy to start this season, Kane already leads the team with four goals in three games.

 "We're not over that 10-game mark yet so I don't want to jinx anything," he said. "But it's been fun being a part of the start of the season for a change. I just want to continue that going forward."

 

Scouting the Sharks

The Sharks and Sabres are in similar positions, with San Jose winless through two games this season. Following a 4-1 loss to division rival Los Angeles on Saturday,coach Pete DeBoer cited the team's compete level at its main issue. 

They've had three days to correct that, and Housley said it's important for the Sabres to be ready for a hungry team come puck drop.

"They're still a very good hockey team," Housley said. "They're going through a little bit of what we're going through. I'm sure they worked on a lot of things in practice these last three days, we've got to understand that."

The Sharks no longer have Patrick Marleau; the face of their franchise for 19 seasons moved on to Toronto via free agency during the offseason. Housley said having Marleau center the third line behind Joe Thornton and Logan Couture made for difficult matchups when facing the Sharks in the past.

But even without Marleau, the Sharks have no shortage of standout players, a group that includes Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and especially reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. Burns led all defensemen with 79 points last season and led the entire NHL with 320 shots.

"He's a terrific passer," Housley said. "I know he can use his mobility and he's a big presence out there, but he's a terrific passer. He always finds the open man, and I think that makes him unique. It just seems that his shots always get through, he changes his angle terrifically, and he does it quick. We're going to have to pay attention to that, especially with our D-zone coverage. 

The Sharks will be without defenseman Paul Martin, who is day-to-day. Joakim Ryan, a seventh-round pick in 2012, will make his NHL debut in his place.

 

Projected lineup

28 Zemgus Girgensons - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo/26 Matt Moulson
67 Benoit Pouliot - 22 Johan Larsson - 23 Sam Reinhart
25 Seth Griffith - 10 Jacob Josefson - 17 Jordan Nolan

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 5 Matt Tennyson 
4 Josh Gorges - 19 Jake McCabe

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson

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