With the trade deadline having passed and the majority of their team still intact, the Buffalo Sabres came to practice at KeyBank Center on Tuesday feeling like they still had something to prove.
Evander Kane may have been the only player traded Monday, but Jason Botterill was clear in saying that more change is on the horizon. For players who want to remain in Buffalo and be part of the solution, the remaining 19 games are an opportunity to prove it.
Count Robin Lehner as one of those players.
"We need to try to get better," the goaltender said. "Every game is important to us. It might not be important to other people, but here in this room it's important. It's a part of showing you want to be here."
Video: Sabres Now (2/27/18)
The Sabres will have every chance to prove themselves given the quality of their competition. Their first post-deadline game will be on the road on Wednesday against a revamped Tampa Bay Lightning team that added forward J.T. Miller and defenseman Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers.
Even before the deal, the Lightning led the NHL with 89 points in the standings. The Sabres play the Lightning again later in the season, second-place Toronto four times and the Western Conference's top two teams - Vegas and Nashville - a combined three times.
"These last 19 games, looking at the schedule, I think 12 are [against teams] in the playoffs or playoff contention," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "… It's good that we've played well against really good teams recently. I think that helps in our preparation, getting ready for these teams we're going to play."
Video: Phil Housley After Practice (2/27/18)
Indeed, the Sabres have played some of their best hockey against quality competition as of late. They beat the Lightning 5-3 at home on Feb. 13 and have two wins over third-place Boston in the past month, including a 4-1 victory on Sunday.
The challenge for the Sabres, Housley said, is becoming a team that responds well after victories. They've won back-to-back games on just three occasions this season, but have a chance to follow their win over Boston - which came on the heels of a disappointing loss in Washington - with a strong effort against Tampa Bay.
"I think the guys responded the right way after a poor effort in Washington," Housley said. "They came back and played collectively as a team, played for each other. It just told them that when everybody has their A game, we're going to be in every game.
"But we can't have one, two guys or three guys not prepared or not playing up to their potential because we won't like the result."
If the results stay the same, Botterill said to expect more personnel changes come spring.
"We have to find a way to be much more consistent," alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "It's our turn to build the foundation. We have to prove to this organization, the city that we can change things. I want to be a part of it. I know I have to do a job."
A 'welcome surprise' for Rodrigues
Evan Rodrigues knows as well as anyone what the Sabres should expect from Daniel O'Regan, acquired from San Jose in exchange for Kane on Monday. O'Regan and Rodrigues were linemates for three seasons at Boston University, including the 2014-15 season when they were centered by Jack Eichel.
Rodrigues said that O'Regan and Eichel still live together during the offseason in Boston, and the three players still workout together.
"I texted him right after [the trade]," Rodrigues said. "He seemed really excited about it. He's looking forward to the new opportunity and I think he's looking forward to showcasing himself."
O'Regan, 24, was the AHL's Rookie of the Year last season, when he scored 58 points (23+35) in 63 games for the San Jose Barracuda. He's scored five points (1+4) in 22 NHL games over the past two seasons.
Rodrigues described O'Regan as a player who benefits from a high hockey IQ.
"He always seems to be in an open area without guys around him," Rodrigues said. "It's a weird thing to say, but he's one of those guys who always stops at the net front and he's able to poke in rebounds and just has really soft hands around the net. I think you'll see that with him."
Kyle Okposo missed practice to be with his wife, who is in labor with their third child. Seth Griffith was recalled from Rochester after practice and joined the team for their trip to Tampa. Griffith scored two goals and an assist in 18 games with Buffalo earlier this season.
Here's how Buffalo's lineup looked at practice, with Okposo absent from his spot alongside Scott Wilson and Rodrigues:
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 23 Sam Reinhart
20 Scott Wilson - 71 Evan Rodrigues
67 Benoit Pouliot - 22 Johan Larsson - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Jordan Nolan - 10 Jacob Josefson - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
Defense: 4 Josh Gorges, 6 Marco Scandella, 8 Casey Nelson, 41 Justin Falk, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 82 Nathan Beaulieu, 93 Victor Antipin
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson