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Sabres will look to clean up execution following loss in preseason finale

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Phil Housley has been preaching a shot mentality to the Sabres throughout the preseason, but he had to reiterate that message during the second intermission of their game against the New York Islanders on Friday night. Coming off of a 42 shot night in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Buffalo had only mustered 10 shots through two periods against Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak. 

The Sabres responded and turned up the volume in the third, but it came too little too late. Halak stopped all 11 shots he faced in the final period and Nikolay Kulemin scored an empty-net goal with 1:47 remaining to seal a 3-1 win for New York. 

With the loss, the Sabres conclude their preseason at 1-4-1. 

"In the first two periods I just thought we passed up way too many opportunities to shoot the puck," Housley said. "We had that mindset last game and we got away from that. When you're playing a good, defensive team that collapses to their net, that's the only way we're going to change defenses and we addressed that after the game."

Video: Phil Housley Postgame (9/29/17)

Housley was particularly unhappy with the way the Sabres started the game, which he said has been true for much of the preseason. The Sabres scored first in only one of their exhibition games, against the Penguins at Penn State, which also happened to be the only game they won.

The coach was confident that his players will correct the issue, and they'll have a bit of time. The Sabres don't open their regular season until next Thursday, Oct. 5. 

"I don't think it was good enough," forward Sam Reinhart, who scored the only goal of the game for Buffalo, said. "We've got to demand more, we've got to expect more out of this group. We're going to take a day to forget about it and move on but we've got to be ready for Thursday night."

For as few chances as they were able to generate, the Sabres didn't give up much either. Robin Lehner only faced 21 shots on the night, including just five the first, but New York took the lead on an Anders Lee goal with 2:53 remaining in the period. 

While the Sabres are continuing to assimilate to Housley's system, the coach said there were spurts in the game when the wheels began to turn and the lessons in practice were beginning to translate. One such stretch came in the immediate aftermath of Reinhart's goal, which tied the game at 1-1 early in the second.

For the next five minutes, the Sabres controlled the play and consistently applied  pressure in the Islanders' zone.

"We were just executing," Reinhart said. "It was there for us, the plays were there to be made. I think we have to demand more of our execution. In the first it showed especially on the shot board, and coming out of the neutral zone and getting into their end we just needed to change our mentality and execute."

Video: Sam Reinhart Postgame (9/29/17)

The stretch ended when Zemgus Girgensons was called for slashing with 10:20 remaining in the period, and Jordan Eberle scored what would stand as the winning goal for the Islanders shortly after the penalty expired. 

The Sabres made their push in the third, but came up empty handed. With two "dress rehearsal" games now under their belt, they have five days to correct their mistakes and prepare for opening night against Montreal.

"We've got a long way to go, obviously," Housley said. "I think that group recognizes it, and that's the first thing. I appreciate the work they've put in up to this point in training camp. They've brought a lot of energy, they've worked very hard. We've got to translate that into the games."


Bogosian leaves due to injury

Zach Bogosian left the game with 16:29 remaining in the third period and did not return. Housley did not have an update on his status after the game. 

The Sabres are already dealing with injuries on their blue line. Marco Scandella has been a regular at practice but was held out of preseason games for precautionary reasons as he comes back from offseason hip surgery, while Jake McCabe is week-to-week with an upper-body injury.


Nolan's debut

Jordan Nolan hadn't skated for six days prior to joining the Sabres for practice on Thursday, but he was still able to make an impact in his debut. It was Nolan's pressure on the forecheck that forced Ryan Pulock into making an errant breakout pass that Reinhart was able to intercept for his goal. 

Video: NYI@BUF: Reinhart fires wrister from knee to tie game

"That's part of my game," Noland said. "I think we've just got to work with each other a bit more. Once they find out what kind of player I am, maybe chip a few pucks in my corner and I feel like I can get them that puck and make some plays."

Nolan earned an assist on Reinhart's goal, and finished with a shot and three hits in 11:24 of ice time. 


Griffith makes his case

Nobody had more to gain on Friday than Seth Griffith, one of the finalists for a starting position on the wing. He began the night playing alongside Reinhart on the third line, but was promoted to the top line alongside Evander Kane and Jack Eichel to open the third period.

Griffith led the team with three shots in 14:02.

"I thought Seth Griffith was one of our best forwards tonight," Housley said. "He created a lot was in on the forecheck, had some opportunities still to shoot the puck in the second period, but I really liked his game. He brought his speed element, he complemented that line with Reino … That was very intriguing."


Up next

The Sabres open their regular season next Thursday, Oct. 5, against the Montreal Canadiens at KeyBank Center. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m. 

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