John Gilmour watched from the press box while the Sabres enjoyed their undefeated run on home ice through the first month of the season, waiting for his turn.
After sitting as a healthy scratch for the first 11 games, Gilmour made his team debut in place of an injured Marco Scandella during a 2-0 win in Detroit on Friday. He'll make his home debut when the Sabres host the Arizona Coyotes tonight at KeyBank Center.
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger touted Gilmour's performance in Detroit as evidence of the team's defensive depth. Gilmour played confidently and within the team's structure, a testament to the work he put in during and after practices while waiting for his turn to crack the lineup.
"The attitude he brought every single day to his practice sessions was amazing," Krueger said. "Really, staying out and begging for more, almost. What an example he has been for a player who didn't play for that long but still kept himself in A-shape and A-form. But a lot of it has to do with his attitude.
"Just really, truly, begging for more every day and working extremely hard at the session we had. I think if you let your guard down five percent in those sessions for three weeks, you can't enter like that. But it's his experience and his hunger to make the National Hockey League on a regular basis, I think, that drove him."
Gilmour said he made it a point to embrace his role as the seventh defenseman to begin the season. The 25-year-old is looking to carve out a full-time career in the NHL after finishing second among AHL defensemen in goals (20) and points (54) last season.
Shot attempts were in Buffalo's favor, 10-9, with Gilmour on the ice at 5-on-5 in Detroit. He logged 17:20 and tallied two shots on goal.
"It's a credit to the coaching staff," he said. "Even if I wasn't playing, they were still keeping me in shape on the ice through some pretty rigorous conditioning.
"I'm also here on the day-to-day, so I'm still practicing with the club and just being around the club, so it's just been easy to be a part of this group. We have such a good culture and the vibes are very good."
The Sabres are looking to improve to 6-0-0 at KeyBank Center with a win tonight, which would match a franchise record set in 1975. A victory would give them 21 points in October, which would tie a franchise record for points in the first month of a season set in 2006.
Scouting the Coyotes
Arizona has built on the identity it began to establish last season as one of the league's stingiest defensive teams. The Coyotes have allowed an average of 2.20 goals per game, second only to Boston. Their 13 goals against at 5-on-5 are the fewest in the league.
The play of goaltender Darcy Kuemper has been part of the equation. He's 4-3-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage this season.
"They're a team that works hard in every end of the ice," Gilmour said. "We just did some video on them, so it's going to be a hard-working team for both games. We've just got to match that and impose our will on them, make this a tough barn to play in."
Nick Schmaltz leads the Coyotes with 11 points (4+7) despite seeing his average ice time drop more than three minutes to 14:43. He ranks sixth in the league in points per 60 (4.48) among skaters with at least three games played.
Carter Hutton will get the start in net tonight. With the Sabres coming off Linus Ullmark's 41-save shutout in Detroit on Friday, Krueger once again spoke to his team's strategy of leaning on both goaltenders as they navigate a condensed schedule.
"It's something we were definitely targeting in season that we had a goalie rotation with the pace that we have to deal with here, whether you look at the start phase or the post-Sweden phase," He said. "We definitely need two goalies playing A-games and we're getting that from them right now."
Here's how the rest of the lineup is expected to look based on Sunday's practice:
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka
71 Evan Rodrigues - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 43 Conor Sheary
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
58 John Gilmour - 33 Colin Miller
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 10 Henri Jokiharju
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark
Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.