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Larsson, linemates seeing confidence translate on offense

News and notes from Wednesday's practice

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

At a glance, Johan Larsson's goal against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday could be chalked up to a bit of good fortune. Zach Bogosian sent a shot wide of the net that caromed off the end boards and landed on Larsson's stick, and the forward banked his shot in off the pad of goalie Jake Allen. 

Rewind 12 seconds, though, and you'll find the part of the play that still stuck in Kyle Okposo's mind one day later. 

Larsson entered the offensive zone with possession of the puck and a tight gap between him and defenseman Justin Faulk. Rather than chip it into the corner and go on the forecheck, he deked and carried the puck down low. 

"He probably doesn't make that play maybe earlier in the season or the last couple years," Okposo said after practice Wednesday. "But he's got a lot of confidence right now, and it's definitely a contagious thing."

Larsson has long been a trusted defensive presence during his seven-year tenure with the Sabres. He had one of the most specialized roles in the NHL last season, with just 16.12 percent of his 5-on-5 faceoffs having come in the offensive zone. Only linemate Zemgus Girgensons had a lower percentage, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Both Larsson and Girgensons have seen those percentages rise to the mid-40s this season. Moreover, their line with Okposo has been trusted in crucial situations under coach Ralph Krueger, and they have the confidence to show for it. 

Take the game against the Blues, for example. While Jack Eichel got the bulk of the matchups with Ryan O'Reilly, Larsson's line excelled in the minutes it got against the Blues' top line. In 5:48 of shared 5-on-5 ice time between Larsson and O'Reilly, shot attempts were 7-2 in favor of Buffalo. 

When the Blues called timeout with a minute remaining, Krueger sent Girgensons and Larsson over the boards along with Eichel to protect the Sabres' one-goal lead. Larsson made a crucial play to poke the puck free off the draw and later got a shot on the empty net. 

Girgensons watched patiently as the puck slid toward the goal line, then - with pressure coming from the Blues - tapped it in off the post.

"I'm just trying to be a good teammate there," Girgensons said, laughing. "I didn't want to steal it, but it got really close there to be honest."

Video: STL@BUF: Girgensons buries puck off the post

The confidence drawn from playing a key role has rekindled an offensive spark among the trio. Larsson is currently on his first three-game point streak since 2016 and has nine points in his last seven games. Okposo scored in two straight games after returning from a concussion on Saturday. 

"It's embracing that, but at the same time, knowing that they're an example for how we want to play as a team in general and the way early in the season already they've embraced the principles and the concepts and believed in them as a group," Krueger said. 

"That synergy is creating some offense now, which is a good sign for the other guys to see. We just got to keep along that path. On and off the ice, just a really exemplary group. We're really happy to see them get offensive production out of that now, too."

 

Wednesday's practice

Rasmus Dahlin skated with the team for a second straight day, including work with the top power-play unit. Krueger said his status for Thursday's game against Nashville will be decided in the morning. 

"This is the first contact he's had today, so we have to give it a little bit of time and give and make that assessment as this day progresses," Krueger said. "He looked quite strong there, so it's tending in that direction. Let's not assume anything, because it was the first time he was in battles and contact. But he's moving in the right direction, for sure."

Here's how the Sabres lineup at practice:

28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 43 Conor Sheary / 37 Casey Mittelstadt
13 Jimmy Vesey - 90 Marcus Johansson - 74 Rasmus Asplund

6 Marco Scandella - 4 Zach Bogosian 
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 33 Colin Miller
62 Brandon Montour - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen 
19 Jake McCabe - 10 Henri Jokiharju

35 Linus Ullmark 
40 Carter Hutton


Tomorrow is Aud Night

The seats inside KeyBank Center were already transformed in time for Wednesday's practice: 

Video: Aud Night is Thursday

Find the full list of attending alumni and more information here.

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