BOSTON - While the defensive corps as a whole as yet to record a tally in the goal column, the Buffalo Sabres blue liners were a big part of the team's offensive game last night, contributing assists on each goal Buffalo scored in a 2-1 victory at Ottawa.
Jake McCabe picked up an assist when his point shot was deflected in by Kyle Okposo early in the third period to tie the game. Then, Rasmus Ristolainen jumped into the play and sent a pass from William Carrier to Zemgus Girgensons, who got it to Sam Reinhart, who jammed in from behind the net on what proved to be the game winner.
"We've talked about this for the last couple games is getting more involved in the offense, getting our defense [to be] a part of the five-man offense, stretching out the zone, going low to high and using our defense," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after practice Sunday at Warrior Ice Arena. "We need to a better job from our defense of becoming part of that five man [offense]."
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
Ristolainen has eight assists on the year, which ties him for ninth in the League, three behind League leaders Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, Alexander Wennberg and Claude Giroux. Only Ryan McDonagh and Duncan Keith (9 each) have more points than Ristolainen among defensemen - and they've each played one more game than the Sabres d-man.
McCabe and Cody Franson each have three assists and still see room for improvement when it comes to what the defense can do to contribute more.
"We're trying to find ways to get our shots through to the net. I think we've done an OK job of getting them there," Franson said. "We haven't capitalized on a lot of the rebounds and stuff like that, but you can always get more to the net for the forwards to try and whack away at. I think if we focus on screening and things like that to help with their goalie having difficulties, I think it'll help us in terms of that area.
Bylsma cited a few shifts last night in the third period that he considered the defense's best of the year when it comes to pinching in and supporting the offense.
The first came in that first minute of that third period.
McCabe and Cody Franson were big parts of making the Sabres first goal happen last night. They were able to maintain possession in order to get fresh legs on the ice. McCabe even pinched down on into the corner on his off-wing to keep the puck in and cycle it around. Eventually the puck came back to him at the left point and his shot went off Okposo's leg to tie the game.
Video: BUF@OTT: Okposo nets nice deflection past Anderson
Bylsma referenced a shift at the 5:45 mark in which Dmitry Kulikov and Casey Nelson were able to keep the pressure on Ottawa in the offensive zone. Kulikov kept the puck in at the blue line and that led to a shot on goal that forced Craig Anderson to cover up for a faceoff.
There was another shift Kulikov and Nelson were on for with 5:37 left in the third that started on an offensive faceoff to Anderson's right after an icing. Buffalo held the puck in the Ottawa end for 1:09 and generated three shot attempts.
"If we can grind teams down in the offensive zone like we can - we've seen our forwards be really successful below the dots," McCabe said. "And then if we start going to low to high with the puck and get our D involved - it's not fun when you're in the defensive zone for 30, 45 seconds. You're gassed.
"So if we can continue to do that like we did in Ottawa a few times, it's fun. Really, it's fun when you can play like that."
And then with about 2:30 left, Josh Gorges and Ramsus Ristolainen chipped in to maintain possession and, after a line change to bring Kulikov and Nelson back on the ice, the Senators were unable to pull the goaltender until a minute left.
"Sometimes it doesn't show up on the scoresheet - you may not necessarily get a point off of a play - but making the right reads and making the right plays to create space sometimes is what you need to do as well," Franson said. "I think we've done a decent job as a group. Obviously we need to improve upon it, but I think it's coming."
Happy birthday, Samson
Marcus Foligno wished Reinhart a happy 21st birthday with a towel full of shaving cream:
Video: Sam Reinhart's Birthday Surprise (11/6/16)
Five (or so) questions with Gio
Brian Duff catches up with the captain:
Video: Sabres in :90 (11/6/16)
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart
27 Derek Grant - 73 Nicholas Baptiste
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
34 Casey Nelson
Moulson - O'Reilly - Okposo - Reinhart - Ristolainen
Gionta - Larsson - Baptiste - McCabe - Franson
Tyler Ennis and Dmitry Kulikov were given maintenance days and did not practice. Bylsma expects them "to play well" tomorrow night against Boston.
Monday Night Hockey
The game tomorrow against the Bruins has a puck drop scheduled for 7 p.m. from TD Garden, but make sure you join us for the TOPS Gamenight pregame show starting at 6:30 p.m. on MSG.
You can catch plenty of our game before you start flipping over to Monday Night Football during commercials. It can also be heard on ESPN 1520. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray have the call.