It’s no secret that the overwhelming statistic regarding the Sabres’ special teams has been their ability to score shorthanded. They’ve scored a shorthanded goal in each of their four preseason games thus far.
But the Sabres aren’t only succeeding when they’re down a man.
On the power play, Buffalo boasts the third-best conversion rate in the league at 33.3 percent, having scored on four of its 12 opportunities. It’s still the preseason, of course, but it’s a far cry from the 13.4 percent mark that they posted last season.
Even with his team’s success, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has continued to mix-and-match his power play units throughout Training Camp. Tuesday’s units were drastically different from what we saw at practice on Monday, with four forwards in each combination.
“The preseason, you use the time to try different combinations, different matchups, different personnel because at some point in time at the season you’re gonna need it,” Bylsma said.
“We’ve got to look at different looks, we’re going to see different people in different spots and have people in different opportunities. I think it’s really, really valuable to be able to do that.”
Ryan O’Reilly headed up a unit consisting of Marcus Foligno, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis and defenseman Cody Franson on Tuesday while Jack Eichel’s unit included Evander Kane, Brian Gionta, Sam Reinhart and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. You can expect to see those groups on the ice should the Sabres earn the extra man Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Brian Duff and Rob Ray on the call.
There’s no question that the Sabres’ forward depth has allowed for more experimentation with the man advantage. It’s also made it easier on the defensemen who have the opportunity to join them.
“It’s huge,” Franson said. “You have guys that can make plays in a bunch of different circumstances – guys that can make plays in different ways. You read off each other and kind of accompany each other out there so it’s a good fit. It’s a lot of fun working out there with them right now.”
Foligno said it’s been a while since he’s seen the team have so many guys that can be plugged in and expected to contribute.
“I think you have a lot of resources you can go back to,” he said. “I think you have a lot of guys that you can say, ‘OK, this guy’s not working, but we have this guy who can do a good job because he’s skilled and he’s a fast skater.’ So that’s what’s good about us is that we have a lot of depth so we can reach back in our tool bag and bring out another tool to use.”
LEHNER WORKING ON READS
Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner will play his first full game of the preseason Tuesday night. Lehner’s posted an .864 save percentage in 80 minutes of action this preseason, allowing six goals on 44 shots.
While there is room for improvement on that mark, Lehner said Tuesday that he believes it’s simply a part of the process of getting comfortable on the ice. Prior to the preseason, the goaltender had not played since sustaining a season-ending concussion in February.
“It’s just reads and things like that,” he said. “I feel like, athletic-wise, it’s good. I’m in position, I feel fast, I feel like my reactions are back but some of the goals I’ve been letting in. It’s been just bad reads and stuff like that that just comes with practice. It comes with games and right now in the preseason I don’t worry too much. I just go through the motions and try to get things better every day.”
According to Bylsma, Lehner will have one more full game to work out the kinks. The Sabres play in Minnesota on Thursday prior to ending their exhibition slate against Columbus on Friday night at First Niagara Center. That game can be seen live on MSG, with coverage set to begin at 6:30 p.m.
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
26 Matt Moulson – 41 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
71 Evan Rodrigues – 19 Cal O’Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 17 David Legwand – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
65 Matt Donovan – 46 Cody Franson
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
45 Brendan Guhle – 6 Mike Weber
40 Robin Lehner
50 Nathan Lieuwen