After practice wrapped up at First Niagara Center on Monday, a handful of players stayed out to work on the ice for an additional half hour. The group included forwards such as Brian Flynn, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nicolas Deslauriers, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and Tim Schaller.
That those particular players are ones battling for roster spots or looking to slide up the depth chart isn’t much of a coincidence. The Buffalo Sabres are down to one practice group and the final roster must be finalized before the season opener on Oct. 9.
“Without competition, guys wouldn’t be out there for another 30 minutes practicing,” Schaller said. “It’s getting better every day, working hard even with the guys who might take your spot if you might take their spot. Everyone’s here to make each other better and it’s been fun.”
The players have been pushing each other both in practice and in game situations. Sabres coach Ted Nolan has challenged the players to win jobs and elevate their game to take ownership of the available roster spots.
“That’s what you expect coming into camp. You’re not given anything so you have to earn it but that’s the way you want it to be,” Flynn. “You don’t want other guys playing poorly so you make the team. You want to go out there and get it.”
Flynn has been used at nearly every forward position and on virtually every line in the two past years and he’s also turned into a reliable penalty killer.
“I expect to be bounced around a little between different lines and right wing, center, even left wing. I was prepared for that coming into the training camp,” he said. “I’ve played a few positions so far so I’m used to it. It’s not that big of an adjustment for me anymore.”
ROLL THE HIGHLIGHT FILM
Grigorenko is also trying to leave his mark and had his best game of the preseason Sunday night against Toronto. He scored during regulation and added a goal in the shootout that linemate Chris Stewart said looked like it came out of a video game.
Before he tried the tough move in the shootout, Grigorenko asked Stewart if he should try it. Stewart said he would never discourage a talented teammate from attempting a move they’re confident in.
“Any time you’ve got a chance to showcase your skills, you’ve gotta do it,” Stewart said. “He’s a guy that, if he’s going to make the team, he’s going to have to play that skilled game and really produce some offensive numbers. Last night was a good step in the right direction for him.”
MORE CUTS TO COME
The coaching staff has taken note of which players are thriving on the relatively open competition.
“To a man now, they’re almost taking it to heart. They’re working at it,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “They’re competing for jobs and they’re competing for ice time. When you have that going on, you’ve got a good environment.”
Nolan had an extended meeting with general manager Tim Murray after practice to discuss potential roster moves. More cuts are expected within the next day or two.
“We talk about it on a daily basis and one thing I wanted to make sure we establish was competition for jobs. Truth be told, that’s what’s happening,” Nolan said. “They’re making decisions tough on us and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
INJURY UPDATES EXPECTED ON TUESDAY
Injuries, unfortunately, also create opportunities. Patrick Kaleta and Johan Larsson were fighting for roster spots, but they’re both currently sidelined after each sustained an upper-body injury on Sunday. Nolan said they were wrapping up appointments with doctors in the early afternoon.
Since that’s around the same time practice finished and Nolan was speaking with the media, he did not yet have a chance to talk with the medical staff and thus could not provide any update on their conditions.
Mark Pysyk, who is also recovering from an upper-body injury, did not skate with the team and is expected to miss about another week.