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Nylander growing comfortable alongside Rodrigues, Sheary

Trio has out-attempted opponents 50-17 at even strength

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Alexander Nylander made his NHL debut with his older brother, William, on the opposite bench. The Toronto Maple Leafs won that game in Buffalo, 4-3, with the elder Nylander tallying an assist on an Auston Matthews goal in the first period. 

The younger Nylander, now nearly two years removed from that original meeting, will have the result on his mind when the two brothers meet for their first rematch during the Sabres' home game against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said following practice at KeyBank Center on Tuesday. "I remember my first didn't go as we wanted. I just hope we get the win against them."

Nylander could play a pivotal role if the Sabres are to end their four-game winless streak against their rivals to the north. He's joined with Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues to form one of Buffalo's most effective lines over the past two games, including a two-assist outing against St. Louis on Sunday. 

Nylander, Rodrigues and Sheary have shared the ice for 30:00 at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick. They've out-attempted opponents 50-17 in that span, generating a 74.63 Corsi-for percentage, and outscored opponents 2-0. 

"I've played with E-Rod for a while now, so I think we've grown a little bit of chemistry," Sheary said. "He likes to play a fast game, as do I. I think Nyls brings a little bit of skill to our line. He's got some pretty good vision and he's got a pretty good shot, so he creates opportunities that way."

"I think we all want to play fast, move the puck quickly and [produce] scoring chances," Nylander added.

The trio combined for 11 shots and 14 attempts against the Blues. Rodrigues and Sheary both scored goals, while Nylander's two assists marked the first multi-point outing of his NHL career.

Rodrigues and Sheary both said after that contest that they could see Nylander growing more comfortable, now four games into his third NHL stint. Sabres coach Phil Housley echoed that sentiment on Tuesday. 

"He's taking advantage of the opportunity," Housley said. "Each and every game he seems to get better. His linemates are helping him out, they play a fast game. He's just getting more confident down low, in the corner. 

"He's driving on cycles, he's making plays up ice and he's using his speed. I really like his shot mentality last game. Coming off the wing, he was thinking about shot entering the offensive zone. He's got to continue to shoot pucks."

Video: Phil Housley after practice

Rodrigues said he's made a concerted effort to communicate with Nylander on the ice, letting the 21-year-old winger know how much time he has to make plays particularly in his own zone. 

"It helps in the D-zone when you know your outs, when you get the puck on the wall [you know] if the D is pinching or not," Nylander said. "It's been really helpful, talking. We're just all trying to communicate."

It also helps that Sheary and Rodrigues had formed a connection even before adding Nylander on the right wing. Sheary tallied six shots and four scoring chances with Rodrigues as his center against Pittsburgh last Wednesday and has six points (4+2) in nine games since the beginning of March.

"During the middle of the season, I was kind of going through a rough patch," Sheary said. "I didn't feel like myself, I wasn't playing like myself. Honestly, after the bye week, I think I just had a refreshed mindset. I think I just started working harder and competing, getting to the dirty areas and that all spiraled into better play."

The trio's effective play will keep them together against the Maple Leafs. It could be the second of many matchups between the Nylander brothers, if Alex has his way.

"I've been working really hard for this," Nylander said. "I obviously feel like I was ready. I had a really good training camp this year. I'm obviously here to prove that I can stay. I think I'm ready for this. I just want to keep playing my game and keep it simple."

 

For the fun of it

The atmosphere in KeyBank Center late in the game against the Blues was raucous enough to rival the Sabres' 10-game winning streak \in November, and it started with a physical shift from the line of Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Kyle Okposo. 

Okposo said the Sabres are looking to recapture that feeling over this last stretch of the season, and it begins with playing the type of hockey that inspired it. 

"I think I said it after the first period when I walked into the room, like, 'How much more fun is that, to play like that?'" Okposo said. "Just to be into it, to be intense, to have everybody on the same page working for each other. And it's not like we weren't working, there was just an added intensity in the last game.

"We've got to find that. We've got to find that consistency. I think we had it early and it's been inconsistent since. It is fun."

The Sabres will be looking to win two straight games for the first time since December when they host the Maple Leafs, a factoid they'd be glad to leave in the past. 

"That's just a stat that boggles my mind," Okposo said. "It's a tough one to hang your hat on. We want to finish strong here. Tomorrow's a huge game."

 

Tuesday's practice

The lineup remained the same from the game against the Blues, with Scott Wilson, Jason Pominville and Matt Hunwick rotating as extra skaters. Here's how it looked:

53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
43 Conor Sheary - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 92 Alexander Nylander
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 72 Tage Thompson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo

Extra: 20 Scott Wilson, 29 Jason Pominville

4 Zach Bogosian - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 62 Brandon Montour
6 Marco Scandella - 8 Casey Nelson

Extra: 48 Matt Hunwick 

40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark

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