EDMONTON - When the Sabres take the ice for the first time at Rogers Place on Sunday evening, a couple of players will be doing so for the first time as Sabres in general. Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov, Buffalo's two summer acquisitions, will both be in the lineup after missing opening night with injuries.
Kulikov, who sustained a lower-body bruise in a preseason game against Toronto, was questionable to begin the weekend but improved enough in practice over the last two days to join the lineup. His impact is multi-dimensional; he can move the puck up the ice on the breakout to aid the offense while he demands the opponents' attention with his physical presence on defense.
Those skills make Kulikov an ideal candidate to play on both the power play and the penalty kill for the Sabres, but coach Dan Bylsma said that, for now, the object is to take it slow as he acclimates to a new system.
"There's a ton of areas where Dmitry can help us out on," Bylsma said. "It's just getting his feet wet with our game and plying for our team …. I'm gonna have to break him in probably slower than I'd like to.
With that in mind, Bylsma said he'll be counting on a defense by committee to slow down Connor McDavid and the Oilers. They won both of their first two games against Calgary, led by McDavid's three goals and three assists.
"With a guy with that kind of speed, he can catch you by surprise," Bylsma said. "We can't be surprised by his speed. There are a number of areas where he puts it to use and effect and we have to be aware of that. We have to get bodies and people above him to prevent him from being a factor."
With Okposo and Kulikov in the lineup, Nicholas Baptiste and Casey Nelson will serve as extras.
Robin Lehner will get the nod in net opposite Cam Talbot.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG. The game begins at 7 p.m. and can be seen live on MSG or heard on WGR 550.
23 Sam Reinhart - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Matt Moulson - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 52 Hudson Fasching
63 Tyler Ennis - 27 Derek Grant - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
Defensemen: 77 Dmitry Kulikov, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 29 Jake McCabe, 47 Zach Bogosian, 4 Josh Gorges, 6 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson