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by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

Jake McCabe led all Buffalo skaters with a career-high 23:47 of ice time in the Sabres’ 3-2 win over Vancouver on Saturday.

The 22-year-old defenseman has seen his ice time increase, topping the 20-minute mark in each of the past three games, and Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has found reasons to add to McCabe’s workload and give him more responsibility.

“He got a bit of a double shift and got close to the 25-minute mark. That’s us relying on him and depending on him in tough situations,” Bylsma said after practice Monday at First Niagara Center.

McCabe was sent down to the American Hockey League before the start of the season and did not play in Buffalo’s first two games. He was called up after dressing in one game for the Rochester Americans and McCabe has found himself in the lineup for the Sabres ever since.

“His ability and what he’s done has been a huge improvement for our backend since he’s gotten in there,” Bylsma said. “His defending ability – probably the biggest aspect of that is his skating ability.”

McCabe has two goals on 10 shots this season. Going back to Development Camp in the summer and through this fall’s Training Camp, he’s been working on developing a consistency to his game.

“I think I’m growing every game and getting more confident as the season’s gone on here,” he said. “I’m just going to try to continue to play well and play better each game and just improve and keep that consistency going.”

In the 12 games he’s played this season, McCabe has seen a lot of time with both Cody Franson and Mark Pysyk. McCabe and Pysyk had been paired frequently in the minor leagues up until this season so they’ve been able to develop a good rapport.

He’s only played the past two weeks or so with Franson but they’ve been able to develop good chemistry already. A lot of that has to do with communication on the ice.

“He talks a lot. He’s come from a place obviously that’s preached that,” Franson said. “We’ve been able to click quite quickly because of it. Talk out there with how fast this game is goes a long way and that’s something we’ve been able to be pretty smooth at.”

Without hearing Franson’s comments, McCabe also remarked that talking on the ice is a big part of his game and a reason why things have been going well so far.

“It’s just communicating out there when you go out to get pucks. That’s the biggest thing, he said. “The more you talk, whether it be forwards or us defensemen, it makes the game easier out there and it slows it down.”

McCabe, a second round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, has only 21 career games under his belt – with 57 percent of them having been played this year alone. However, Franson has seen the University of Wisconsin alumnus excel so far this season and is looking forward to continue manning the blue line next to him.

“To see him come in with that little bit of experience and be able to do what he’s doing is very impressive. He’s playing against good players already,” Franson said. “He’s playing an accountable role and he’s doing a good job with it. He’s making smart plays. He’s not getting beat.

“He’s very easy to play with and I really enjoy playing with him. It’s one of those things were the more we time we get together, the better we’ll get.”

There is still a lot of room for McCabe to develop and continue to improve, but Bylsma has liked what he’s seen thus far in the defenseman’s young career.

“He’s got to cut down on some of those puck plays but he’s been very good for us and he’s going to continue to be very good for us,” he said.

26 Matt Moulson – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 12 Brian Gionta
88 Jamie McGinn – 15 Jack Eichel – 63 Tyler Ennis
22 Johan Larsson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 23 Sam Reinhart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand / 59 Tim Schaller – 82 Marcus Foligno

4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 46 Cody Franson
6 Mike Weber – 3 Mark Pysyk
25 Carlo Colaiacovo

35 Linus Ullmark
31 Chad Johnson

One notable change in the lines comes in the pairing of Eichel and Ennis. For more on that new combo, check out Monday’s edition of Sabres in :90 presented by Tops Friendly Markets.

The Sabres will face the Lightning for the fourth and final time this season Tuesday night. Tampa Bay has gotten the best of Buffalo on all three occasions, outscoring the Sabres 10-3.

“We don’t want to let them sweep us for the season so this is going to be an important game for us,” Eichel said. “We definitely have a lot to prove to ourselves and overcoming them. They’re a good team and they were in the Cup Finals for a reason. But we’ve played them well and we know we can beat them.”

Buffalo will get their last crack at the defending Eastern Conference Champions on national TV. The game is set to air on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. It can also be heard live on WGR 550.

The Sabres have won four of their past six games and are coming off a win against Vancouver in which Rasmus Ristolainen potted the game-winning goal with 16.8 seconds remaining in regulation.

“We’ve been playing good hockey for most of the year – spurts that are really good,” captain Brian Gionta said. “At times, we still make mistakes that they kind of hurt us, but that’s part of the learning process.”

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo returned to practice after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury.

Zach Bogosian, who has been out since the early stages of Training Camp due to a lower-body injury, however, is not yet back on the ice with the team. Before the team flew out to Tampa, Bylsma provided an update on his condition and when he may return to practice:

“He’s doing well – on progression and building a foundation. There is a date when you see him. Eventually you will see it come to fruition,” Bylsma said. “He’s now going on the trip with us. He will be skating back here and has ramped up where he’s at. He’s at higher level stages than three days ago.”

Bylsma was also asked about the status of center Cody McCormick, who did not pass his physical at the start of Training Camp. McCormick has not played since Jan. 9 after being diagnosed with blood clots. He has yet to be cleared by the team’s medical staff and Bylsma said that until that happens, McCormick will remain out.

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