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Sabres look at strong period as winning template

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

The Sabres fell into an early hole that they were never able to climb out of against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. But even after a shutout loss, they were provided with a basic template of how they'll need to play to be successful when they meet the Wild again in Minnesota next Tuesday - or in any other game, for that matter.

Even though they didn't score, the Sabres were in agreement on Friday that their second period against the Wild was as good as any they've played through six games this season. Buffalo generated 31 shot attempts in that period alone while allowing just 11 from the Wild.

"I would probably without a doubt agree with that," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after practice on Friday. "Pretty much every aspect of the second period was our best … We've had three periods with 11 scoring chances or 10 scoring chances so far this season, and that was the most dominant period of hockey we've played."

Those scoring chances started coming right out of intermission. Kyle Okposo put his size to good use on back-to-back possessions just one minute into the period, both times backing off a defender and spinning around to get in alone and put the puck on net. On the next possession, Ryan O'Reilly took a far shot through traffic and Zach Bogosian was stopped on a put-back attempt.

Their best chances came on a power play when Teemu Pulkkinen went to the box for hooking 3:50 into the period. Both units generated sustained pressure in the offensive zone and took multiple shots from in close to the net. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was on his game and recorded his second-straight shutout, but the Sabres believe that kind of effort will result in goals more often than not.

"I know myself personally, I've got to bear down on my chances more," Okposo said. "I think that they're gonna go in and we've got to believe that, and we've just got to continue with the way that we need to play." 

The Sabres have shown flashes of how they're able to play in each of their last four losses. They had a third-period lead in Calgary, held the edge in shots in Vancouver and had a three-goal lead entering the third period in Philadelphia. What they have yet to do other than in their win in Edmonton is play within their system for a complete 60 minutes.

"Our mentality was in the second period and it's got to be going forward that this is how we're going to play, we're going to play this way for the 230-odd periods we have left in the season," Bylsma said. "Keep playing that way and we'll be alright, we'll be fine."

Robin Lehner practiced with the team for the first time since Sunday after missing the last two games with an illness. Lehner said he felt ready but that the plan was for him to wait to play in Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon. Bylsma agreed that it was unlikely for Lehner to start at home against Florida on Saturday but said he would wait until the morning to decide his starter. 

Having watched the last two games from afar, Lehner echoed his coach and teammates regarding what the Sabres need to do to be successful moving forward.

"I feel like we're there, that's the frustrating part," Lehner said. "I feel like we're in the game and then in five-minute segments we kind of lose the game. Small details, we just need to stay consistent to our game plan. It's not like we're not in games.

"… Coach said this morning that there are a lot of games left, that's the good thing going for us. We've got to buy in. We've got to buy into the game plan. It's not 55 minutes buying into the game plan or 50 minutes, it's 60 minutes or if it's overtime we do that too. We've got to do what we say we're gonna do … We have the ingredients to be able to play consistently good hockey. I'm not going to sit here and say we're gonna win every game, let's be realistic. I feel like we can be competitive and keep it close but that requires that we play a certain way."

Video: Sabres in :90 (10/28/16)

Fasching joins the power play

Hudson Fasching practiced with the second-unit power play on Friday. He replaced Derek Grant, who has played a net-front role on the power play through the first six games this season.

"I'm thinking Hudson deserves a bigger opportunity and a bigger role," Bylsma said. "The power play won't change per se, the structure of it and what they're trying to accomplish. Hudson will be at the net where he's strong at and has good hands and good instincts ... Hopefully he'll cash in on a goal for us."

You can hear from Fasching in today's "Sabres in :90" with Brian Duff.


Friday's practice

26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
63 Tyler Ennis - 23 Sam Reinhart - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
52 Hudson Fasching - 27 Derek Grant - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers

4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 47 Zach Bogosian
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
34 Casey Nelson

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson
35 Linus Ullmark

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