The Sabres mixed up their lines again at Wednesday morning’s practice, but it doesn’t appear that they’ll have much of an effect on the team’s lineup for Thursday night in Minnesota. According to coach Dan Bylsma, Buffalo will carry only eight veterans when it plays the Wild in its sixth game of the preseason.
The following night, against Columbus at First Niagara Center, is when Bylsma has said we should expect the closest thing we’ll see to the lineup that the Sabres will use when they open the regular season on Oct. 8.
One person we can expect to play on Thursday is goaltender Chad Johnson, who is scheduled to make his final full start in net of the preseason. Johnson made 30 saves on 34 attempts in his last start on Saturday, a 6-4 win in Ottawa.
Another player we might see in Minnesota is defenseman Jake McCabe, who was back in practice on Wednesday after sustaining an upper-body injury over weekend.
“Every day he’s felt much better from his upper-body injury. I think he was fine yesterday and obviously with a full practice today I think he’s able to get back to playing,” Bylsma said.
Bylsma had more good news regarding his injured defensemen on Wednesday. After leaving the game due to a hard hit by Dion Phaneuf on Tuesday night, Brendan Guhle has showed no signs of concussion-like symptoms, according to Bylsma.
Guhle sustained an upper-body injury on the hit and remains day-to-day.
Tuesday night not only marked the first time we saw Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel in the same lineup, it was also the first time the two centers shared the ice.
When Buffalo earned a 4-on-3 advantage in that game, Bylsma went to four of his most talented forwards to try and score a goal – O’Reilly, Eichel, Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis made up the four-man unit.
“You’ve got to be a little smart,” O’Reilly said. “I think, when we were out there, I kind of try to get myself to make sure I have a little bit of a defensive mindset out here with four forwards. But it’s good, it’s exciting. We moved the puck quick and we generated a lot of offense.”
The super group wasn’t able to find the back of the net during their time on the ice, but they did control the puck and create chances. Bylsma said Wednesday that it wasn’t just a preseason experiment.
“It doesn’t really matter what label you have, 4-on-3 we’re gonna put players we think give the best chance [to score],” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to have it be four forwards.”
AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW
The crowd may have roared for Eichel, but the breakaway shorthanded goal he scored against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night would have never happened had it not been for a defensive-zone turnover caused by Nicolas Deslauriers.
Deslauriers intercepted a pass that was intended for Leafs forward Connor Brown and immediately fed Eichel. Then, he raced to join Eichel for what he thought would be a 2-on-1 rush.
“And I looked up at the red line and saw him in the zone. I was like, ‘Ah, I think I’m gonna stop here,’” Deslauriers said. “He just made a great move and that’s how you see how fast he is, I gave him the puck when I was almost equal to him. He blew by everybody.”
Deslauriers’ assist on the Eichel goal gave him his fourth point of the preseason; he had scored two goals and an assist in two games prior. Just as he did on Tuesday night, he’s made sure throughout camp to be in the right position to make plays – whether he’s scoring in front of the net, making a big hit, or forcing the turnover that leads to a shorthanded goal.
“It’s been good. I’m obviously happy to play with [David] Legwand and [Marcus] Foligno; I think putting Foligno on the right side just makes it a little bit more stable with two big guys. It’s fun, it’s been one of my best camps since I went pro and I’m just proud of it. There’s a little more to do before the season and we’re just getting ready,” he said.
The Sabres are back in action Thursday night in Minnesota. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call.
26 Matt Moulson – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane – 41 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
88 Jamie McGinn – 23 Sam Reinhart/22 Johan Larsson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 82 Marcus Foligno
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 3 Mark Pysyk
29 Jake McCabe – 46 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson