If the Buffalo Sabres are to snap a five-game skid in the upcoming week, they'll have to do it on the road. A matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Friday night will kick off a three-game road trip for the team that rolls through Winnipeg on Sunday and then Minnesota on Tuesday.
Sabres alternate captain Josh Gorges was specific when asked what he hopes to see from the team over the course of the next three games.
"I think first and foremost is that compete [level]," he said. "We've got to compete from start to finish, no matter the situation or the game, and then what comes of that is sticking together as a team. Play the systems, play the way we're supposed to play, but play it hard, play with some pride, play with some passion.
"I think if we do those things and really focus on those two details, we'll be successful."
Gorges was a part of a defensive shakeup at practice on Thursday, skating on a pair with Cody Franson rather than Rasmus Ristolainen, his partner since early in the season. Ristolainen split repetitions with Jake McCabe alongside Zach Bogosian.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma insisted that not too much be read into these moves. The object, he said, was simply to give Bogosian an opportunity to practice on his offside for when it occurs in game situations. Bogosian skated on the right during reps with McCabe and on the left while paired with Ristolainen.
While Gorges admitted there could be improvements on his pair with Ristolainen – they have to be not just good but great, he said – he's also enjoyed the process of developing as the team's top pair during the course of the season.
"I've really enjoyed playing with him as a partner," Gorges said. "Like I said, I think we work well together, we complement each other, the communication is there and I think that as the year goes on you grow with your partner.
"You understand where he's going to be in situations and vice-versa. So I think we've taken a lot of steps in that direction and we'll see what comes out of today's practice in the lineup tomorrow."
Tim Schaller also returned to practice on Thursday after being absent Wednesday with a lower-body injury. Schaller centered the fourth line between Matt Moulson and David Legwand. Schaller and Legwand both played less than eight minutes but combined to draw three penalties against Florida on Tuesday, their first game since losing fourth liner Nicolas Deslauriers to a lower-body injury.
"I think it was all right," Legwand said."We drew three or four penalties and I think that’s something that helps the team out in the long run. I think it helps the guy who gets the power-play goal and those types of things. We've got to stay out and come with energy and give what we can every night."
With Schaller's return, the team did not recall an extra forward for their upcoming road trip. With goaltender Robin Lehner and Mark Pysyk's respective conditioning assignments in Rochester counting against the Sabres' roster, the team is already maxed out at 23 players.
As for Lehner and Pysyk, both are going to play during the Amerks' three-in-three set this weekend. Bylsma hinted that Lehner will play multiple games while he expects Pysyk to play in all three. The Amerks play in Rochester on Friday and Sunday and in Binghamton on Saturday.
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 88 Jamie McGinn
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larson – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 59 Tim Schaller – 17 David Legwand
4 Josh Gorges – 46 Cody Franson
29 Jake McCabe –47 Zach Bogosian/55 Rasmus Ristolainen
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 6 Mike Weber
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark