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SABRES CONTINUE TO LOOK FOR WAYS TO IMPROVE PENALTY KILL

by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

Before flying out to Brooklyn on Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres took the ice for practice at HARBORCENTER.

Tyler Ennis has missed two-straight games with a lower-body injury and did not take the ice. The team will not hold a morning skate on Sunday so Ennis will take pregame warmups at Barclays Center and will be evaluated from there.

Alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly also did not practice. He played a season-high 26:03 and picked up a goal and two assists in the win over Philadelphia on Friday. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he actually had to talk O’Reilly into taking the day off. After Friday’s game, the 24-year-old center was tops among forwards in time in average ice time.

Jamie McGinn was also given a maintenance day and did not practice.

Sunday night, Buffalo will take on the New York Islanders in the team’s first game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Coverage on MSG-B and Bell-TV begins at 7 p.m. with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.

The Sabres’ penalty kill has successfully killed off eight of the opposition’s past nine power-play opportunities (88.9 percent) over the past four games. However, the players and coaching staff still feel there’s a lot of room for improvement.

They were able to hold off the Flyers on all four of their man-advantage situations on Friday, but a slow start to the season down a man has left Buffalo ranked tied for last in the NHL at 71.4 percent through 11 games.

“I think we’re working more as a unit,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “The penalty kill, it’s a tough job but you need all four guys that are on the ice – including the goalie – to work at the same pace and move the same way and make the same reads.

“If we can get on the same page and continue to develop that way, we’ll be better off. I still think there’s a long ways for us to go when it comes to our penalty kill, but we’ve made some good strides and we’ve got to build off that confidence and that belief that we can get the job done.”

A drill toward the end of Saturday’s practice focused on clears out of the defensive zone from the corner in a penalty-kill situation. Goaltenders Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark manned the points, diving and flailing to try to keep the puck in the zone as players battled with assistant coaches in each corner.

Usually the drill uses defensemen on the blue line, but Bylsma wanted to stress hard clearing attempts off the glass and that the players get the puck down the ice and even on goal. Putting the goalies there added a little extra excitement – and protected the skaters from possibly losing some teeth.

“It was pretty much breaking it down to one simplest form of one simple skill and one simple thing – and one thing we have to be a lot better at,” Bylsma said.

The Sabres also worked on another wall-play drill that has become something of a mini-game. Bylsma has seen the extra attention to detail put into it in practice pay off in game situations.

“The competition brings a certain focus to how important the play is and focusing on that play – we’ve done it a couple of times and I think we’ve been astronomically better in the game at the play and the support of the play,” he said.

Adding the competition aspect is something the players have grown to like – especially when it comes to something like finding a way to improve the penalty kill.

“It’s important. Those little things, if you do those well, you’ve got a chance to win,” Rasmus Ristolainen said. "That’s one thing we need to work on.”

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