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Housley shuffles lineup as Sabres prepare for western road trip

Reinhart practices at wing; Kane swaps lines

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Change is inevitable when a team is winless through three games, and there was plenty to be found when the Buffalo Sabres returned to practice at HarborCenter on Wednesday morning. From the lines and defensive pairs to personnel on the power play, the team had a whole new look. 

Here's what the new lineup looked like: 

28 Zemgus Girgensons - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
67 Benoit Pouliot - 22 Johan Larsson - 23 Sam Reinhart
25 Seth Griffith - 10 Jacob Josefson - 17 Jordan Nolan

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 5 Matt Tennyson 
4 Josh Gorges - 19 Jake McCabe
93 Victor Antipin - 26 Matt Moulson

"You change the lines to try to get other guys going or maybe there's some chemistry that you're looking for," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "That's why we made that change today. They could change tomorrow, but we thought we would try these combinations moving forward."

Video: HOUSLEY: After Practice

One notable change at forward was the swapping of Kane for Girgensons on the left wing alongside Eichel. Kane has been the team's most productive scorer thus far with four goals in three games, and his speed could inject some life on a line alongside O'Reilly and Okposo, both of whom have been kept off the scoresheet so far this season.

The other most notable change is the move for Reinhart from center to the wing. Reinhart has moved back-and-forth between the two positions throughout his young NHL career, but had played exclusively at center since the start of training camp.

Reinhart admitted he's been fighting the puck this season, and said his focus is on making quicker decisions and moving his feet faster on the puck. 

"I'm just going to try to relax and have fun," Reinhart said. "There's so many things going on. I know I'm not the only one when I'm saying I'm fighting the puck a little bit. I've just got to relax down low, find my game and that's what I'm going to look to do."

Defensively, the pairing of Antipin with Moulson as a fourth unit suggested they could be scratched for Buffalo's game in San Jose on Thursday. That would open the door for Gorges, a healthy scratch in all three games thus far, to make his debut.

"He's been really good, a really good teammate," Housley said. "I know it's not easy, being a veteran guy, but he should be ready for his opportunity right now and it's good of him that he's had a good attitude."

Both power-play units underwent dramatic makeovers after allowing four shorthanded goals in three games. That meant breaking up the top unit that was a major catalyst for Buffalo's success with the extra man last season, when the Sabres finished with the top-ranked power play in the NHL.

On one unit, Pominville and Kane joined Eichel and O'Reilly with Ristolainen at the point. The second unit featured Okposo, Griffith and Pouliot along with two defensemen in Beaulieu and Tennyson.

The overall focus of practice was on speed and execution coming out of the defensive zone, an area the Sabres have struggled with in their past two losses to the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. 

"I think coming back, finding the easy option, communicating on the way back and getting out of the zone as quick as possible," Reinhart said. "That's been our toughest part and that's what we worked on today."

While they work out the kinks, the Sabres will have to balance the reality of their struggles with the fact that the season is still young. They can rebound with a strong showing on a perennially-tough California road trip against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, which now also includes a meeting with the undefeated Vegas Golden Knights at the tail end.

"Every game is important," Ristolainen said. "Yeah, I know it's only three games, but it's six points. At the end of the year the schedule might be tough and you need every point so right now the good thing is, it's only three games so we can regroup and be strong on this tough road trip against really, really good teams."


Lehner leaves practice

Lehner left practice early on Wednesday after taking a shot off his mask, leaving him with a cut on his face. Although he initially continued to practice after he was tended to by trainers, he left for good midway through the session to receive stitches.

Housley said the goaltender was OK after practice.

"Robin's doing great," Housley said. "It did require some stiches so he had to get off a little bit early."


Bogosian unlikely to travel

Zach Bogosian is still working his way back from a lower-body injury, and Housley said he expects the defenseman to remain in Buffalo when the team travels to begin a four-game road trip in San Jose on Thursday.

"I would anticipate that," Housley said. "We're trying to be really careful with it, he was moving in a good direction, but again we've got to be cautious about putting him into a practice and just make sure we take the right amount of time."

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