PHILADELPHIA - Dan Bylsma said Monday that he's aiming to get Dmitry Kulikov involved in more situations on the ice. If the Sabres' morning skate at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday is any indication, that includes a full-time presence for Kulikov on the power play.
Kulikov stepped in for Jake McCabe on a unit with Derek Grant, Tyler Ennis, Brian Gionta and Cody Franson on Tuesday morning. Bylsma has worked Kulikov into the power play slowly after the defenseman missed nearly all of his first camp with the Sabres due to his commitment at the World Cup of Hockey and then a lower-body injury that he sustained in his first preseason game.
After seeing little time with the extra man in his first two games, he skated a season-high 1:38 of power-play ice time against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
"Hopefully [I'm ] a threat from the point, getting shots through, creating chances for our forwards to get rebounds, moving the puck well," Kulikov said. "Just helping any way I can."
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Just as his time on the power play has increased, so has his overall ice time through three games. While the Sabres' have continued to utilize a balanced defensive effort from their three pairs, Kulikov's 21:35 in Vancouver was second amongst the team's defensemen only to Rasmus Ristolainen. Kulikov has skated on a pair with Zach Bogosian in practice over the last three days, but Bylsma said he also plans to play him alongside Ristolainen in certain matchup situations.
Kulikov brings a physical presence to the ice, but he's also shown an ability to execute quick breakouts and join the rush when needed. He did both of those things on a play in the first period against Calgary last Tuesday, when he rimmed a pass along the boards to begin the breakout and then rushed down the ice, got the puck back in the offensive zone and delivered a perfect pass across through the defense to hit Zemgus Girgensons for a wide-open scoring opportunity.
"I think we've been breaking out of our zone successfully," Kulikov said. "The chances I think that we allowed were mostly off the rush. Playing against top lines, you know they're gonna get chances. You just have to limit their chances."
Kulikov joins a power-play unit that has yet to produce a goal this season, but Bylsma made a good point on Tuesday in saying that they haven't had many opportunities. The Sabres have had several power plays cut short due either to goals being scored by their first unit or to the penalties having been drawn while on the penalty kill.
They'll face a Flyers penalty kill that enters the game ranked 22nd in the League at 77.3 percent.
The puck drops in Philadelphia at 7:30 p.m. The game can be seen live on NBCSN or you can listen to Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call on WGR 550.
A challenge for Nilsson
Anders Nilsson will make his regular-season debut in net for the Sabres with Robin Lehner sick and having not made the trip. Linus Ullmark was recalled from Rochester on Monday and will serve as the backup.
Nilsson made a strong impression in his first camp in Buffalo, stopping 26 shots in two periods in his preseason debut and following that up with a 23-save shutout of Toronto in his second game, which included a four-round shootout.
His challenge on Tuesday is a Philadelphia team that ranks seventh in the League with 3.33 goals per game even after a 3-1 loss to Montreal on Monday night. Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds both saw four-game goal streaks snapped in the loss. They lead the team with five and four goals, respectively.
"He's shown a great work ethic in training camp," Bylsma said of Nilsson. "He's battled in the net every day he's been in there. He played his two exhibition games, he was outstanding, solid. He hasn't had the opportunity to get the net yet but tonight he will get that first chance."
It is how you start
With the Flyers playing the second of back-to-back games (their 18 back-to-back sets are second in the League this season to Buffalo and Columbus' 19), Bylsma said a key to the game for the Sabres will be whether or not they're able to jump on a tired team early.
"I feel like we need to be aware of our start, we need to be aware of how we come out," Bylsma said. "Especially a team that's played a number of games more than us and played last night in Montreal, traveled last night as we sat here. I think it's a real big factor for us tonight."
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
63 Tyler Ennis - 23 Sam Reinhart - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 52 Hudson Fasching
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 47 Zach Bogosian
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
31 Anders Nilsson
35 Linus Ullmark