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Secondary scoring, special teams make difference in win over Panthers

Reinhart, Johansson tally 2 points each in victory

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Ralph Krueger said it would take a committee approach to scoring and a consistent discipline on defense for the Buffalo Sabres to succeed while Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson recover from injuries. 

They displayed both of those qualities, along with strong special teams and more steady play from goaltender Linus Ullmark, in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at KeyBank Center on Saturday. 

The Sabres scored three goals on their first seven shots - from Henri Jokiharju, Conor Sheary, and Sam Reinhart - to chase Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 5:42 of the second period. They finished the afternoon 1-for-3 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. 

The victory was Buffalo's second in a row to open the New Year. 

"Guys stepped up," alternate captain Marcus Johansson said. "We did what we had to do. It's going to be tough without [Olofsson], he's been one of our best players all year. But you go to fight through that and hopefully we'll come out stronger. It was a good start to get two points today."

Video: Reinhart, Ullmark help Sabres edge Panthers, 3-2

Olofsson, who ranks second on the Sabres with 16 goals, is expected to miss five to six weeks with a lower-body injury. Skinner is eight days into his recovery from an upper-body injury with a recovery timetable of three to four weeks. 

Playing their first game without both players, the Sabres were able to generate offense from different areas. Sam Reinhart led the way with a power-play goal and an assist, giving him 14 points (5+9) in his last 15 games. 

The line of Sheary, Johansson, and Jimmy Vesey also continued to have an offensive presence after combining for three goals against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Johansson created multiple chances with his skating in the first period, including a 2-on-1 rush that saw his pass attempt to Sheary stopped by Bobrovsky. 

The trio delivered when they had another chance on an odd-man rush early in the second. Vesey made a play along the wall to spring Johansson into the offensive zone with two defenders trailing, then Johansson delivered a backhand pass to Sheary under the stick of defenseman Aaron Ekblad. 

Video: FLA@BUF: Sheary, Johansson team up to double lead

"We feed off each other," Sheary said of his chemistry with Johansson. "I think he likes to play with a lot of speed, as do I. We play a lot of give-and-goes, and with (Vesey) working out there, too, I think our line just has some good chemistry right now."

Johansson finished the contest with two assists, extending his point streak to a season-best four games. 

"I think Marcus of late has gotten some confidence," Krueger said. "His goal the other day and just generally the play over the last few weeks after the Christmas break, he feels freer somehow. It's really important for us to get him on his game. 

"He can create. He takes and consumes the opposition with his skating and his puck-handling ability that other doors open up like it did with Conor tonight. We need to keep him moving, he needs to keep that skating game alive because it's a completely different type of attack than we have with the Eichel line. It's good to have a little bit of a varied approach to scoring goals."

Jokiharju opened the scoring with 7:11 remaining in the first period, burying a feed from Reinhart on the rush for his fourth goal of the season. Krueger said seeing more offense from the back end had been a point of emphasis since Olofsson was injured Thursday.

Video: FLA@BUF: Jokiharju goes upstairs on nice passing play

"In this phase where we lose Victor and Jeff for that long a period of time, we definitely need to look at ways that our defensemen can get involved to add to the scoring," Krueger said. "That's one of the focuses we've had the last few days and its' great to see Henri jump in and chip that in. But it's another area where believer we can create some more secondary scoring."

Ullmark, meanwhile, kept the Panthers off the board until Mike Matheson beat him with a shot on the rush with 7:20 remaining. He finished with 32 saves and was vital to the team's perfect night on the penalty kill.

"We do believe in our PK and we know that we've got to be game-changers out there," he said. "It was nice that today was one of those days where we kept all of the pucks out of our net."

The power play snapped a 0-for-16 streak with Reinhart's one-timer from the left faceoff circle in the second period. Even beyond that goal, Krueger said he liked the shooting mentality his team displayed with the extra man. 

"There was a hunger to shoot that we haven't seen for a while and we need to build on that," he said. "But our specialty teams were the catalyst for what happened here tonight. I'm just proud of the guys. Big, big win for us. Entering the New Year with two wins puts us back into a position we want to be in and now we've got to build on it."


'90s Night

Video: '90s Night Video Open

Twenty-two alumni were in attendance for a celebration of the 1990s. Catch Rick Vaive, Pierre Turgeon, and Jay McKee on the broadcast in the videos below. 

Video: Sabres alumnus Rick Vaive pregame interview

Video: Pierre Turgeon Broadcast Interview

Video: Jay McKee Broadcast Interview


Up next

The Sabres visit the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Coverage on MSG begins at 7:30 p.m., or you can listen on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 8. 

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