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Sabres look to get back to playing shutdown hockey

Rodrigues, Baptiste reassigned to Rochester

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

With goals having been hard to come by during the Sabres' current six-game winless streak, it's easy to point to their lack of pucks in the net as the primary cause for their lack of points in the standings. Buffalo has averaged 1.82 goals per game this season, which ranks last in the League. 

There are a few factors that come into play when it comes to their scoring woes. They've played four of their last five games without both of their top two centers in Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel, the latter of whom has yet to play this season due to a high-ankle sprain. The chances they have had offensively, meanwhile, have gone largely unfulfilled. 

But with all the attention being paid to their scoring numbers, the team's focus on Friday remained on the chances they have been giving up defensively in recent games and the toll it might be taking on their offense. 

"We talked today about concentrating on playing the right way, limiting the other team's chances," forward Matt Moulson said after practice at KeyBank Center. "It seems like we're giving up a lot of odd-man rushes to some pretty skilled groups the last couple games so I think that's the focus. Playing the right way will lead to offensive chances and scoring chances."

Video: Sabres in :90 (11/18/16)

When the Sabres take the ice for their game against Pittsburgh on Saturday, it will mark two full weeks since they earned their last victory with a 2-1, come-from-behind effort in Ottawa. At that point, they had won four of five games and had a record above .500. In each of those four wins, they allowed one goal or less and never scored more than three themselves.

"We weren't scoring tons of goals, we were getting big goals here and there but we were playing solid through each zone," Moulson said. "That's something we definitely have to get back to."

Even during their current streak, the Sabres have played tight games that they lost due to casual moments that turn into goals against. Their message on Friday was that they need to eliminate those mistakes, even if it means opting against taking risky chances themselves.

"We've got to make sure we're playing the right way and we can't press," Okposo said. "We've got to try and stay the course and make sure that we're doing the little things right because that's where you're going to get more opportunities. We've had some good opportunities, we've played the right way for a while and then for whatever reason we have a couple minutes where we don't and we give them opportunities and they end up in the back of our net.

"As a team, we just can't do that. We have to make sure that we're doing the right things all the time. If that means sacrificing a chance here or there to not give up a 3-on-2 then that's what we have to do."

The amount of quality chances the Sabres have missed as of late is difficult to explain even for the players themselves, but they seem to be in agreement that they've been "gripping their sticks" offensively. The remedy, they hope, will be getting back to shutdown style that made them successful early on.

"Personally, I always believe if you're thinking negative or frustrated about something then it's going to create negative results," Moulson said. "That could be part of it. But we just have to bear down. You're not going to get one chance a game, there's going to be numerous chances. I think right now we have a tendency to miss one chance, we're all of a sudden gripping our sticks right away.

"I think it's something that needs to stop, it will be something that'll be taken care of by playing the right way and knowing that when you're going to shut teams down you don't have to grip your stick so tight."


Medical Report

O'Reilly and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov were both absent from practice and are unlikely to play against the Penguins on Saturday. It will be the fourth-straight missed game for O'Reilly (oblique) and fifth for Kulikov (lower-back), but Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that both players remain day-to-day. 


Roster moves 

The Sabres reassigned forwards Nicholas Baptiste and Evan Rodrigues to Rochester following practice on Friday afternoon. The Amerks begin a 3-in-3 set at home against St. John's on Friday night. 

Bylsma said not to read too much into the changes made to the forward lines, which could mean they'll differ from what we'll see against Pittsburgh on Saturday. With that being said, here's how the lineup looked at practice on Friday.

21 Kyle Okposo - 23 Sam Reinhart - 12 Brian Gionta
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 26 Matt Moulson
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 71 Evan Rodrigues
48 William Carrier - 27 Derek Grant - 73 Nicholas Baptiste

4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson

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