As the preseason continues and opening night draws nearer, time is running out for players to separate themselves for a chance to make the NHL roster. Only two exhibition games remain following Buffalo's home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, and Rochester camp is set to open on Monday.
With several such players in the lineup against Toronto, Phil Housley said it'll be the little things he's seeking from those wishing to stand out.
"It's one thing to implement systems," Housley said. "They're trying to buy into what we're doing and they're working hard at it. But if you want to separate yourself from other people on the team or the totem pole, you've got to do the things that require hard work ethic. Maybe it's blocking shots, maybe it's taking hits to make plays, maybe you're first on the forecheck."
Finding ways to get noticed has been even more difficult given an influx of penalties and thus a lack of 5-on-5 opportunities. It's been difficult for players to establish flow to their games, especially for those who aren't playing special teams.
In this area, Justin Bailey has looked to turn an undesirable situation into a positive by trying to standout on the penalty kill. At Penn State on Tuesday, Bailey was part of a unit that went 7-for-9 against the Pittsburgh power play.
"I think it's been a weird preseason with a lot of penalties," Bailey said. "For me, I've found success on the penalty kill and that's something that I'm trying to add to my game. If I'm going to play here, that's something I want to do. I'm just trying to improve on that."
For all the time the Sabres have spent in the box over the past two games - they surrendered nine power plays again in Toronto on Friday night - they've been successful on the kill, allowing just three goals on 18 tries. Bailey said they've been instructed to play aggressive when shorthanded.
"I'm a big guy and I have a long reach with my stick and one of my best assets is my legs, so whether it's a loose puck or a rebound or anything like that they want us to be going hard and physical at the guy," he said. "That's just what I'm doing, I'm getting my stick and trying to use my legs to limit the amount of time their power play has."
After tonight, Bailey will be one of a small handful of players to have played three preseason games, along with Victor Antipin, Nicolas Deslauriers, Seth Griffith, Johan Larsson and Matt Tennyson. Other roster hopefuls, like Hudson Fasching and C.J. Smith, will be making their second appearance against Toronto. They've been working to stand out in practice and in scrimmages.
"Making plays hard and crisp, not really lagging out there," Smith said. "Just working as hard as I can. It doesn't really matter who I'm with or where I'm at. I'm given an opportunity, so I'm trying to do the little things right and be really sharp on my habits."
Whereas Friday's game featured a star-laden roster for Toronto, the Sabres will be dressing several of their top players for the home crowd at KeyBank Center. Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen are all expected to play, while Jason Pominville will play his first game back in Buffalo after scoring two goals on the road on Tuesday.
Here's how the full lineup is expected to look:
26 Matt Moulson - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 23 Sam Reinhart - 29 Jason Pominville
49 C.J. Smith - 22 Johan Larsson - 24 Hudson Fasching
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 51 Kyle Criscuolo - 95 Justin Bailey
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
45 Brendan Guhle - 5 Matt Tennyson
4 Josh Gorges - 93 Victor Antipin
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson
How to watch
Tickets for the game are still available and can be purchased here. If you can't make it downtown, the game will be broadcast live on MSG-B or you can listen on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.