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Sabres may try some different looks at forward on road trip

Larsson returns to practice, Vesey skates with Eichel and Reinhart

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

As the Buffalo Sabres look for offense up and down the lineup, head coach Ralph Krueger may try some different line combinations during the team's three-game road trip that starts tomorrow night in Boston.

During Wednesday's practice at KeyBank Center, Jimmy Vesey worked on a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Victor Olofsson skated with Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Asplund, his old linemate in Rochester. Johan Larsson was back at practice and centered a combination with Zemgus Girgensons and Curtis Lazar. Jeff Skinner, meanwhile played left wing with center Evan Rodrigues and winger Conor Sheary.

All of that, however, could change by the time the Sabres take the ice for their game against the Bruins on Thursday (6:30 pregame on MSG; 7 p.m. faceoff on MSG and WGR 550). 

Larsson has missed the past three games with an upper-body injury, but is expected to make the trip that includes games against the Bruins, Panthers and Lightning. He's one of five forwards on the injury report, including Marcus Johansson, who could be back with the team this week.

"Still, no firm decisions [have been made]. You saw it in practice today, we haven't confirmed the lineup yet for tomorrow or the lines or if he's going to be a green light," Krueger said. "We're going to make that decision tomorrow."

Johansson could remain behind for the game in Boston and join the team for their games in Florida. 

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Ralph Krueger

If Vesey ends up on playing in a game with Eichel and Reinhart in his hometown on Thursday, he's ready for the opportunity. 

"It's a good feeling. I said this a little bit in training camp, but getting put up there, it gives you a shot in the arm and a little bit of a boost," he said. "I'm excited, especially going home and trying to have a good game in Boston."

He's still looking for his first goal of the season, but has been relied upon in different situations, including on the penalty kill. Krueger is confident that Vesey's hard work will eventually pay off with some goals.

"More than anything, we have a feeling that his work has been strong and a goal will explode him into a stronger secondary scoring position. Whether that will be the line tomorrow or not, we'll see, but it's just an option we have," he said. "There is some Boston energy in the group right now that is permutating right through the whole team. Jimmy has been giving us an honest effort. 

"He's been trying really hard also on the penalty kill and we believe we need to get his confidence up. We believe we need to get four lines scoring again. Also, the history of potentially Victor with Rasmus Asplund, they played every single minute together of last season in Rochester so those are things we're considering on the way to the Boston game."

On defense, there are decisions to be made as well. Nine defensemen skated at practice and all are expected to make the trip to Boston, including Zach Bogosian. Thursday night, general manager Jason Botterill said that the team was optimistic that the D-man would be able to play at some point during the road trip. Bogosian is working his way back from offseason hip surgery. 

The team's depth has been tested over the past week. During Thursday's game, the Sabres played with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, with John Gilmour filling in on a line with Asplund and Girgensons. 

Larsson is eager to get back in the lineup and face a Boston team that has been on a good run. The Bruins are on a five-game point streak and are 7-0-4 at home this season.

"We want to get back to what we're good at and we know we can play. Just come back to basics. We know we're a good team and we'll start with Boston," Larsson said.

"It's a tough team. They come out hard and you've got to be ready from the start and be ready to battle in a heavy game. They're a tough to beat there."

Granato returns to practice

Video: Assistant coach Don Granato returns to practice

The Sabres welcomed back assistant coach Don Granato at practice. It was announced on Oct. 1 that Granato had been hospitalized with severe pneumonia and would be taking a medical leave from the team.

As he recovered, he slowly worked his way back into the fold. He's been helping the coaching staff break down video, but hadn't had any real interaction with the players until today's practice. Granato was one of the first ones on the ice at KeyBank Center on Wednesday. 

"The whole team, everybody got a real lift today with having Don join us," Krueger said.

"…He's been watching all the games lately and we wanted to get him 100 percent, not 90, not 80, not 70 - he had to be 100. He's been really able to watch for a while so it's a fresh perspective coming in now to the coach's room and his experience will definitely help us in this situation."  

Granato will begin to transition back into his role over the next few games. Amerks head coach Chris Taylor has been filling in as a Sabres assistant coach on an interim basis.

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