DETROIT – All things considered, the first NHL game for both Hudson Fasching and Casey Nelson went pretty well. Each rookie recorded his first career point (Fasching scored and Nelson picked up the secondary assist) and saw significant time in a comeback win for the Buffalo Sabres on home ice.
So, what's on the docket for game No. 2? Just a nationally televised game in one of the League's most storied rinks in Joe Louis Arena, against a Detroit Red Wings team that's currently fighting to keep alive a 24-year postseason streak.
Not that you'd know it by talking to them Monday morning.
"I was actually able to play here before so there's a little bit of a comfortability factor," Fasching said. "I played here in the Big Ten Championships last year. It's nice to be in a rink you're a little more familiar with, especially for your first road game."
Most of the nervousness for the two rookies subsided in their win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, thanks in part to their performance but also to the support of those around them on the Sabres' bench.
"I had the jitters, first period especially, but had a lot of help back there to settle me down so I kind of settled down," Nelson said. "[The coaches and players helped] a lot. They're always talking, asking if I need anything, questions or anything like that."
Nelson even saw time on the power play against the Jets and, if the morning skate was any indication, he might see more on Monday. Nelson had been in on power play meetings prior to his debut, but hadn't yet practiced it with the team. He was surprised when he got the nod from his coach.
"He was like, 'Hey, you're up.' I was like 'What do you mean?' because we were on the power play," Nelson said. "I kind of had it in the back of my mind but I didn’t know there was a real chance."
Fasching's familiarity with Detroit goes beyond having played in Joe Louis Arena. He was linemates with Red Wings rookie Dylan Larkin at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, a team that also featured Jack Eichel.
"He was fun to play with," Fasching said. "I think our games kind of complemented each other well, he had the speed and skill and I'd kind of go in the corners and try to get him the puck. He'd wheel around the zone and do his thing."
Having played with him, however, Fasching also knows what kind of threat he'll present as an opponent. Larkin has 43 points (21+22) this season, fifth among rookies.
"He's got tremendous speed and tremendous skill and he's had a lot of success this year," Fasching said. "He's a fast player and you've got to keep your head up out there for him otherwise he'll blow right by you."
Larkin and the Red Wings are currently tied with the Philadelphia Flyers with 85 points as the two teams battle for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Detroit last missed the playoffs in the 1989-90 season, before Fasching, Nelson or Larkin were even born.
"We talked about it this morning, they're going to be a desperate team and on that's fighting to get into that playoff picture," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "We talked about playing games this time year and they're hard to win. They're playoff-type games and we'll be in one tonight."
Chad Johnson, winner of seven of his past eight starts, will take the net for Buffalo opposite Detroit's Jimmy Howard. The game can be seen on NBCSN and Sportsnet with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop. It can also be heard live on WGR 550.
After beginning the game on Saturday alongside Matt Moulson and David Legwand on the fourth line, Fasching spent the third period against the Jets on the top line with Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. He was back on the fourth line for line rushes on Monday, but Bylsma said that doesn't mean he won't continue to see time with O'Reilly as well.
"I liked all of Hudson's game," Bylsma said. "I think being on the road, he'll see time there throughout the game tonight as well as [Nicolas] Deslauriers."
Here's how the lines will stack up to begin the game in Detroit:
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 17 David Legwand – 52 Hudson Fasching
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
3 Mark Pysyk – 34 Casey Nelson
30 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen
O'REILLY NOMINATED FOR MASTERTON AWARD
Ryan O'Reilly was voted by members from the Buffalo chapter of the Pro Hockey Writers Association as the Sabres' nominee for the 2016 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given annually to the NHL player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
Marcus Foligno finished second in the balloting and Robin Lehner finished third.
"O'Reilly has become a de facto captain in the locker room and on the ice," wrote The Buffalo News. "The 25-year-old routinely stays on the ice after the club's regular workouts and leads many of his teammates in more extra skills drills after the coaches have left."
Each of the 29 NHL clubs will have one nominee for the award, which will be given at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas in June.