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Sabres found success rolling lines against LA

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Take a look at the ice times for the Buffalo Sabres from their game against Los Angeles on Tuesday. At first glance, you might think you've read a typo, particularly when you see the minutes listed for Ryan O'Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen. 

O'Reilly, the NHL leader in ice time among forwards, was just third among Sabres forwards at 17:08, placing him behind Jack Eichel (18:11) and Marcus Foligno (17:38). Ristolainen entered the game having played 29-plus minutes in four straight contests, but he only skated 22:04. That was second to Dmitry Kulikov, who skated 23:45. 

There are a few factors at play here, primarily the fact that special teams played such a small role in the game. The Sabres only had one power play in the game and the Kings had zero. O'Reilly and Ristolainen typically accrue as much ice time as they do because of their heavy involvement on both the power play and penalty kill.

"Without the special teams - we had one power play and no penalty kills - we really rolled four lines for a big part of that game," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's really kind of how we want to play."

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
Zemgus Girgensons and Nicolas Deslauriers had the smallest amount of ice time, but even they skated 10:46 and 10:59, respectively. The remaining Sabres forwards outside of Eichel, Foligno and O'Reilly all fell within range of 12-17 minutes. 

The fact that the Sabres scored six goals and earned the victory in a game in which they were able to roll all four of their lines is a good sign for a forward group that is only a Tyler Ennis away from being full healthy. 

"I think we've got a lot of good players on our team," forward Matt Moulson said. "Different players, obviously. Everyone's capable of playing in a pretty high level in the NHL so we can roll them over, I think it gives the team a spark."

Moulson has been playing on multiple lines per game recently, and that trend continued against Los Angeles. He began the night playing with Girgensons and Deslauriers, a line that Bylsma said he thought was responsible for Buffalo's best shifts in the first period. Moulson relocated to a line alongside Eichel and Kyle Okposo in the second period and earned two assists by winning battles low in the offensive zone.

Moulson practiced with Eichel and Okposo again on Thursday.

"I think those two guys are obviously easy to play with," Moulson said. "They're smart, strong on the puck and make plays. You've just got to get them the puck and get open. I think we had a few chances to get goals so I thought we moved it well."

Evander Kane played on Eichel's line in the first and third periods, and it was he who scored on an assist from Eichel at the net front to restore Buffalo's two-goal lead. The goal was Kane's fourth in his last five games.

Whether we see Moulson, Kane or both players take the ice with Eichel when the Sabres host the New York Islanders on Friday night remains to be seen. But if Bylsma is able to roll his lines the way he wants to, every forward will get their chance to contribute.


Defense corps approaching full health

With Zach Bogosian a full participant in practice once again and Taylor Fedun skating with the team for the first time since sustaining an injury on Dec. 5, the Sabres' defense corps is nearing full health for what would be the first time this season. That will leave the team with eight healthy defenseman on the roster, meaning they'll likely have a decision to make in the near future about who they'll reassign to Rochester in order to whittle that number down to seven. 

Fedun and Justin Falk were both recalled from Rochester to fill in at points this season and both have proved to be reliable on the back end while Bogosian, Kulikov and Josh Gorges nursed injuries this season. Fedun said he was disappointed with his own injury, of course, but seemed happy with the way he's played while drawing positives from the Sabres' current predicament by looking at it from a team perspective. 

"We'll just stick with that and keep moving forward," Fedun said. "But, I mean, as a team it's great. We've had some key injuries back there so it's definitely positive. It's a good problem to have for us moving forward here." 

You can hear more from Falk, Gorges and Bylsma on the team's defense corps below in today's Sabres in :90 with Brian Duff.

Video: Sabres in :90 (12/15/16)


Bylsma emphasizes five-game stretch

The Sabres have five games in eight days before their holiday break begins on Dec. 24, starting with their home game against the Islanders on Friday. All five of those games are against Eastern Conference opponents: two against the Islanders, two more against the Carolina Hurricanes and one in Florida against the Panthers. The Islanders trail the Sabres by one point in the standings, while the Sabres trail both the Hurricanes and Panthers by two points.

"After the loss to Washington, we really looked at these six games before the break for us to really bear down and focus here," Bylsma said. "I think that's really why the LA win is a real big win for this group and one we want to keep going here. Yes, you can look at our opponents - Carolina twice and the New York Islanders twice - but it's just a stretch of time I the season where we really have to bear down and try and get some wins here and go on a roll."


Lines at practice

48 William Carrier - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 23 Sam Reinhart
26 Matt Moulson - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 28 Zemgus Girgensons/27 Derek Grant - 9 Evander Kane

Defensemen: 29 Jake McCabe, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 4 Josh Gorges, 77 Dmitry Kulikov, 41 Justin Fall, 6 Cody Franson, 47 Zach Bogosian, 38 Taylor Fedun

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson

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