FARMERS BRANCH, Texas – Hockey sounds echoed throughout a hollow ice rink in Farmers Branch, Texas on Friday as the Buffalo Sabres practiced in preparation for a rematch with the Dallas Stars on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
Pucks off the boards and off the post rung loudly through the Stars’ practice facility as the team worked on its offensive play following a 3-2 shootout loss against St. Louis on Thursday. They began by laying sticks on the ice in each of the rink’s four faceoff circles and were tasked with elevating short passes over the sticks from the corners, off of which the recipient would score.
“We’re going to play a lot of hockey in the next eight days or so and today was just a focus on scoring goals and the execution of that,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “I hope we enjoyed the execution of it today and that’s really what we were doing at both ends of the rink with forwards and D.”
Defenseman Mark Pysyk, who did not play in the loss to St. Louis, missed practice again with a lower-body injury. Bylsma said that Pysyk would be re-evaluated Friday and more info on his status could be available in the next few days.
Fellow defenseman Zach Bogosian and forward Ryan O’Reilly were also absent from practice for maintenance days. Bylsma said that both players will play Saturday night.
Coverage of Buffalo’s matchup with Dallas begins at 7:30 p.m. ET with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with puck drop set for 8 p.m.
A GAME TO BUILD OFF OF FOR KANE
Evander Kane made his return to the lineup Thursday after missing 10 games with an MCL injury. Kane tied O’Reilly with a team-high eight shot attempts and said that the game was a good stepping stone as he continues his rehabilitation.
“I felt as we expected, I think a game’s a lot different form practice but I felt good,” the forward said.
“I felt about as confident as I could be at that time with my recovery and felt like I’m able to build off that.”
As the game went on, Kane’s contributions to the offense increased. Part of that is due to the mental adjustment that he made during the game – at first, he said, he was playing with cautiousness in the back of his mind but it slowly slipped away as the game progressed.
Kane was on the ice helping to prolong a shift in the offensive zone when Sam Reinhart scored in the second period.
“The first period was a little tricky. I don’t think I had a shot on goal,” he said. “In the second period, I was able to get some shots and create some offensive zone time for our line and we were able to get a goal off of that.
“We need to be able to continue to do that – the more the better.”
A PERFECT THIRD FOR O’REILLY
O’Reilly scored the game-tying goal for the Sabres to force overtime Thursday, but his offense wasn’t the most startling aspect of his game. The forward took a game-high 21 faceoffs and won 16 of them for a 76 percent clip.
After the second period, O’Reilly went 9-0 on faceoffs. O’Reilly’s 266 faceoff wins this season ranks second in the NHL and his 58.8 winning percentage ranks fourth amongst players with at least 100 attempts.
Bylsma said that, if anything, O’Reilly is so valuable in the faceoff circle that it detracts from the coach’s ability to use him in offensive situations.
“It’s more of a factor on our defense in the third,” Bylsma said. “You almost have to put him on the ice in the defensive zone to take the draw. So it almost detracts from the offense – obviously on the power-play situations, the 5-on-3 situations – he’s winning those draws and winning them back.
“But really I feel like they’re more overtaxing and overburdening him on the defensive side because he’s been so pivotal in the faceoff circle.”
O’Reilly led all forwards with 25:06 of ice time on Thursday, including a team-high 4:53 on the power play. His 2:41 spent on the penalty kill was a team-high amongst forwards.