Ralph Krueger noted during training camp that Zemgus Girgensons was playing with a high level of confidence. He lauded the forward for his trustworthy defensive play and his tone-setting tenacity on the forecheck.
Girgensons has teamed with linemates Johan Larsson and Kyle Okposo to keep up that strong impression through the first four games of the season. Krueger spoke highly of the trio on Thursday, citing the line as an example for others on the Sabres to follow.
The next step is to carry their tenacious play in the offensive zone onto the score sheet. Krueger said he believes they deserve more than the one goal they have to their name, a tip from Okposo against New Jersey on Saturday. Girgensons expressed confidence that the points are coming.
"As long as you keep getting those chances, at some point one's going to go in," Girgensons said. "Even if it's a dirty goal or something. We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing, creating that little chaos around the net and the chances will come."
Their next chance will come tonight, when the Sabres host the Florida Panthers for the second game of a three-game homestand at KeyBank Center. Pregame coverage on MSG begin at 6:30 p.m.
The chances have been plentiful so far. The Sabres have out-chanced opponents, 23-7, with Girgensons, Larsson, and Okposo sharing the ice at 5-on-5. All three rank in the top 15 in shot-attempt percentage at 5-on-5, with Okposo leading the league among skaters with at least 10 minutes of ice time.
Their success has been the result of hard work and simplicity. They throw the puck behind opponents and throw their bodies around to get it back, supporting one another as they battle along the boards. They've embraced the old cliché of getting pucks and bodies to the opposing net.
"We are all a little bit more free to do what we want in the offensive zone and we all just read off each other," Girgensons said.
Even if they don't have the offensive numbers to show for it, Krueger suggested their work has indirectly led to offense from other lines. After Larsson and company wear a defense pair down, for example, Krueger might look to match one his of his skill lines against that pair the next time around.
If the Sabres are being pinned in their zone for consecutive shifts, the line takes pride in being able to swing momentum back in their favor.
"When we get out on the ice, we try to play simple," Girgensons said. "There's been times when teams have kind of pinned us in our end and we step out and we try to get the momentum back. Yeah, definitely, it can help the team to swing the [momentum in our favor]."
Scouting the Panthers
The Panthers are 1-2-0 coming off a 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Tuesday. New coach Joel Quenneville expressed disappointment with his team's start to that game, which saw the Panthers fall into a 4-0 hole they never climbed out of.
"We have a lot of respect for the direction they're going with the new coaching staff," Krueger said. "You can already feel Joel's handprint on the group. Just like our situation here, there's a lot of newness and a lot of teaching and coaching going on. We have a lot of respect for the skill that's in their group.
"There's a lot of drive, a lot of speed. Their defense are extremely involved in the attack and offensively they come hard, so they'll test our structure. We look forward to a lot of excellent games against Florida. When I look at the games they've played so far this year, they're still not where they want to be but on a good day these are going to be tough games."
Sergei Bobrovsky, a major acquisition by the Panthers this offseason, will get the start in net. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner is 1-2-0 with a .859 save percentage in three appearances this season.
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
Linus Ullmark will make his second start of the season in net. He made 40 saves in an overtime loss to Columbus on Monday.
Here's how the rest of the lineup is expected to look based Thursday's practice:
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 71 Evan Rodrigues
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 33 Colin Miller
6 Marco Scandella - 10 Henri Jokiharju
35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton