With his team in search of offense, Phil Housley juggled his forward lines for the Sabres' home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. Namely, Ryan O'Reilly was placed between Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart while Jack Eichel centered a line with Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville.
The Sabres are coming off of a 3-1 loss to Carolina on Saturday, their fourth one-goal performance in five games.
"You look at our last three games, obviously we'd like to get more scoring," Housley said. "We addressed that. But I think just giving the guys some fresh teammates and a new look will revive some confidence and try to create some more balance in our lineup."
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The forward lines for Monday are rounded out with the trios of Benoit Pouliot, Johan Larsson and Kyle Okposo and Jordan Nolan, Kyle Criscuolo and Seth Griffith.
The trio of Girgensons, Eichel and Pominville saw some success during a small sample size together earlier this season. They were on the ice for three goals as opposed to one against at 5-on-5 in just 23.48 minutes of shared ice time, according to Corsica.hockey.
Eichel also skated 73.63 minutes with Girgensons in his rookie season of 2015-16, albeit with Reinhart on their right wing. In those minutes, the Sabres' posted a 58.2 shot attempts percentage, the best of any line that season.
The trio of Kane, O'Reilly and Reinhart is also a throwback to 2015-16, when the line shared 190.85 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time and had a shot attempts percentage of 55.06.
"I just tried to look back at some of the chemistry that players had before," Housley said. "We're just trying to get new combination to give them a fresh start tonight. Obviously we haven't generated enough so we've got to make a change."
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Regardless of the combinations, though, the Sabres coach restated his belief Monday that the answer to Buffalo's scoring woes lies in the defensive zone. When the Sabres have committed to defending and moving up the ice as a five-man unit, he said, the results have been positive.
"We've got to defend better," Housley said. "We have to be quicker to close. We have to be aggressive in that area because we're allowing teams to cycle and wear us down defensively and I think that's a lot of why we don't have the puck.
"We want to be an attacking team, we want to be fast and play with pace on the rush, but in order for us to do that we've got to be better in our own end."
Coverage on Monday begins at 6:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B. You can also listen to the game live on WGR 550, with puck drop set for 7 p.m.
Rematch with Columbus
The Sabres and Blue Jackets have met once already this season, a 5-1 Blue Jackets victory in Columbus on Oct. 25. In that game, Columbus ran away with the lead using a string of three goals in the span of 2:59 at the end of the second period. Two of those goals came with Columbus having numbers on the rush.
The key on Monday, Girgensons said, is ensuring that Buffalo's high forward is defensively responsible to prevent those odd-man opportunities.
"They're a hard working team," Girgensons said. "They have a lot of skill. They definitely outcompeted us last time we were there. We gave them way too much. They have a lot of guys who can finish chances so you always have to know who's out there."
Columbus enters the night having won its last three games, including a 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday in which reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his second shutout of the season.
Artemi Panarin leads the Blue Jackets with 14 points (4+10), while forward Oliver Bjorkstrand and defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski rank second with 12 apiece.
Forward Jacob Josefson was back on the ice with the team on Monday for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury on Oct. 17. He's missed 14 games in the meantime, but Housley said his status has improved to day-to-day.
Housley also said that defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, out for the last seven games with an upper-body injury, has been skating but remains week-to-week.
9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
17 Jordan Nolan - 51 Kyle Criscuolo - 25 Seth Griffith
6 Marco Scandella - 41 Justin Falk
19 Jake McCabe - 82 Nathan Beaulieu
4 Josh Gorges - 93 Victor Antipin
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson