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Okposo: 'Connected game' has led to high shot totals

Sabres have averaged 38.6 shots per game since win in L.A.

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Kyle Okposo didn't even take a second to consider the question. If the Sabres continue to play like they did in New York on Sunday, he was asked, will it translate to wins more often than not?

Okposo, never one to sugarcoat a situation, was firm in his response. 

"Oh yeah," he said. "Obviously with the exception of the result, I was really happy with how we played. Especially coming off an emotional game like we had the night before."

The night before saw Buffalo produce its highest-scoring game since 2009, a nine-goal effort against the Ottawa Senators in which they outshot their opponent 41-29. Afterward, they held a get-together in honor of Jason Pominville, who had been recognized for playing in his 1,000th NHL game. 

"It's easy to let your guard down after that," Okposo said. "We didn't at all. We came to the rink ready to play at seven o'clock when the puck dropped. I thought we controlled the whole game even though we didn't get the result we wanted. If we play like that, we're going to win games."

The numbers backup Okposo's claim. The Sabres outshot the Rangers, 40-22, and earned a 72-43 advantage in shot attempts. That kind of performance falls right in line with the way they've played since earning a 5-1 win in Los Angeles on Oct. 20.

 Video: SABRES NOW

Coach Phil Housley has long preached the importance of a "shot mentality." The Sabres have taken it to heart. Since that win over the Kings, the Sabres rank second in the NHL with an average of 38.6 shots per game. They've tallied 40 shots five times in eight games.

It's no coincidence that the Sabres also rank second in the league with 30 goals over that span.

"I think they're showing that they're taking pucks to the net, obviously," Housley said. "I don't know if it's the message, but I think they can see it. If it's a bad angle shot, it just creates offense. We're on the retrieval mode, other teams are reacting to us, we gain possession and we can start the cycle play."

Okposo says the high-volume shot totals are a product of the Sabres' commitment to playing within their system. They've aimed to transition as a "block of five" this season, from their defensive-zone breakouts to their cycling in the offensive zone. 

Moving up the ice as a five-man unit has led to more time on offense, Okposo said, which in turn leads to more shots. 

"I don't think we've spent as much time in our own end because we're working together and we're working smarter without the puck," he said. "We're working to support one another and then that, in turn, is giving us more opportunities in the offensive zone. 

"It's a connected game. If you're off in the D-zone, you're not going to be very good in the O-zone and vice versa. I think that we're connected. We've been connected all over the ice in the past seven or eight games."

The Sabres are plus-62 in shot attempts over their last eight games, which ranks fifth in the NHL. Their 54.49 Corsi-for percentage ranks fourth in that same span. Both numbers indicate that they've played in the offensive zone more often than not.  

The consistency with which they've played has its roots in practice, beginning with their arrival to training camp in September. Intensity is higher than it's been in years past, and the fruits of their labor are starting to show.

"When you lay the foundation throughout training camp, through the start of the season, of how you want to play in practice, then it becomes easy in games," Okposo said. "It just becomes second nature. It's not like you're trying to go into a game and flip a switch and all of a sudden, you're trying to play as hard as you can. You do it every day and it just becomes habit. That's part of maturing as a group. 

"We've got a young team, but I think that's a valuable lesson that we've learned. Now we've got to continue to keep making those steps. We've got to trust that foundation, keep building it though."

 

Sabres assign Malone to Rochester

The Sabres assigned forward Sean Malone to Rochester on Tuesday afternoon. Malone has been out since training camp with a knee injury. The Buffalo native scored 22 points (12+10) in 73 games as a rookie in the AHL last season. 

The first-place Amerks play at KeyBank Center on Wednesday.  

 

Tuesday's practice

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Housley

The Sabres took time at the end of an hour-long session at Harborcenter to focus on 3-on-3 play. The first trio on the ice: Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin. Housley didn't let on as to whether or not we'll see that combination in a game, but he did deliver a message centered on protecting possession in overtime.

"I think shot selection's really important," he said. "Is it in a grade-A quality scoring area? I think the biggest thing is possession, ultimately you want to win the first faceoff, so you gain possession, and from that point, you just got to be smart."

Housley made minor tweaks to the team's forward lines and defense pairs ahead of the team's game in Montreal on Thursday. Okposo and Sam Reinhart swapped lines up front, while Nathan Beaulieu replaced Casey Nelson on a pair with Rasmus Dahlin. Beaulieu has only appeared in one game since Oct. 18.

Here's how the Sabres lined up in full on Tuesday:

53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
43 Conor Sheary - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 23 Sam Reinhart
71 Evan Rodrigues - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 21 Kyle Okposo
10 Patrik Berglund - 22 Johan Larsson - 28 Zemgus Girgensons / 72 Tage Thompson

19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Marco Scandella - 4 Zach Bogosian
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 26 Rasmus Dahlin
81 Remi Elie* - 8 Casey Nelson

40 Carter Hutton 
35 Linus Ullmark

*Extra forward skating on defense
 

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