With about 3:30 left in Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Kings - after a stretch of nearly six minutes without any whistles - Buffalo Sabres coach Ralph Krueger turned to a small group of players to help seal the victory.
Ahead 2-1, the line of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson were on the ice when Olofsson potted an empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining. The goal proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 victory.
"What we love about their game is how connected they are defensively and how hard they work to do the right things without the puck to get it back," Krueger said after practice on Sunday at KeyBank Center. "That's the goal of course: When you don't have it, get it back.
"They are as good as any line as I've seen at working when we don't have the puck and positioning themselves. We just have more and more confidence with them as a line."
That line, along with Marcus Johansson, Zemgus Girgensons, Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Henri Jokiharju, Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe were on the ice for nearly every second of Buffalo's late defensive effort.
When asked about the development of Okoposo's defensive role, Krueger shed some light on how he manages the end of games in which Buffalo has a lead and what he's looking for when it comes to players he can consistently rely on in those moments.
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
"We have a lot of confidence in him without the puck. You saw him also part of the Closing Team yesterday. I kind of call it the Closing Group - who's closing the game out, which 10 guys are going to be out there the last four minutes - and Kyle was in that mix again," Krueger said.
"And it's just because, again, the puck management that he has right now is outstanding. He's making really good decisions under pressure and also defensively, getting into position, working hard, using his body and size and again, also the leadership he gives in the room, you can't buy that. It's fantastic to have Kyle Okposo in the mix and we're excited that he's becoming such an important part of this whole project."
It's not a surprise that those qualities align with what he said about Eichel, Reinhart and Olofsson, and it's also how he described the late-game play of Ristolainen and Jokiharju earlier this month.
Video: SABRES IN :50
Curtis Lazar briefly found himself in that mix as well yesterday. Brought up from Rochester on Friday for his third recall of the year, the center skated 15:53, including 1:26 on the penalty kill. He filled in for an injured Johan Larsson on a line with Okposo and Girgensons.
"He goes to Rochester, spends some time down there and works specifically on the game he needs to play here in the NHL," Krueger said. "It's working down there too, he becomes a major player for them, and he returns a better player. He returns embracing the system and principles, the concepts that are up here. That was an impressive turnaround and we're cheering for him to sustain that."
Catch Lazar's interview with Brian Duff and Martin Biron on yesterday's Lexus Postgame Report here:
Video: Curtis Lazar Broadcast Interview
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Five of the Sabres' next six games are against Atlantic Division opponents, but the focus right now is only on the next game: Monday night in Ottawa.
It will be Buffalo's last game before the League-mandated holiday break. Their first game after the time off will be at home against Boston on Friday.
The Sabres were able to shake off back-to-back losses in which they were outscored 11-4 with that 3-2 victory over the Kings yesterday afternoon.
"It was huge for us. It's not always going to be perfect," Johansson said. "You're not going to win every game, but it's good to get back on the horse quickly once you lost track for a game or two, whatever it is.
"Yesterday, we played a good team game and that's the way we want to play. We beat a good team yesterday. They've been playing well lately. That was very good for us, not just to get a win but get back to ways of playing quickly."
The Sabres ended up outshooting Los Angeles 28-27, and Krueger put an emphasis on the way the team was able to control the pace and out-chance the Kings.
"You could feel everybody getting right back on track to what we need to play for a game. We did dominate the scoring-chance game yesterday and after the first period, really took over the game - going down 1-0 and showing character down the stretch to get the win," he said.
"The reaction was excellent, the type of game we played was outstanding against a very experience, veteran team that has been really successful of late and came in here with a lot of confidence and really played their A-game, especially early on. For us to come out with a deserved win was the perfect story. Now to build on it through into Ottawa is the challenge."
Faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with the Buick Game Night pregame show kicking off at 7 p.m. on MSG.
Here's how the team lined up during practice on Sunday at KeyBank Center
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 13 Jimmy Vesey
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 27 Curtis Lazar - 21 Kyle Okposo
74 Rasmus Asplund - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 43 Conor Sheary
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 4 Zach Bogosian
6 Marco Scandella - Henri Jokiharju
33 Colin Miller - 62 Brandon Montour
35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton