Preseason, we hardly knew ya.
Seven preseason games are already in the books and the next time the Sabres take the ice for a contest at First Niagara Center (on Oct. 8 against Ottawa) there will be two points on the line. Ryan O’Reilly already had his eyes on the prize after practice Sunday morning.
“It’s go time,” O’Reilly said. “It’s the real deal now. We’re preparing for our first game against Ottawa so it’s exciting. This is what you want. This is kind of the moment that you’ve been waiting for.”
For a new team still working out the kinks, a lot of preparation remains. The Sabres went 4-3-0 in preseason play, during which they showed flashes of their offensive potential in by tallying a cumulative 26 goals.
But they also trailed 5-0 entering the third period of their 6-4 loss to Columbus on Friday. That loss remained on their minds Sunday, as they continued to work toward developing consistency in their play.
“It was kind of embarrassing the way we played the first two periods,” O’Reilly said. “I think we were all frustrated with that, we know that it’s got to start within our structure.
“We’ve got to buy in to the system right away and no matter how we feel, whether it’s low-energy or high-energy. We have to be strong within our system and play that way so I thought we did a good job today of having kind of that high pace.”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that developing consistency on the defensive side of the puck will be a point of emphasis in the final three days of practice as well. Throughout the preseason, the coach was disappointed in lapses by the Buffalo defense that provided scoring chances for opposing teams.
“We have some things to work at and get better at in how we play and defending probably is at the top of the list,” Bylsma said. “Not only the defending part of it, but how we manage the puck coming out of defense and how we manage the puck through the neutral zone has caused us to have to play defense too much.
“So there’s areas we've got to get better at and we’re working at and we did today and we’ll have Tuesday and Wednesday to continue that work.”
ROSTER DOWN TO 28
The Sabres announced on Sunday that the team had assigned forward Cal O’Reilly to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, pending waivers. The move left the Sabres with 28 players (14 forwards, 11 defensemen and three goaltenders) remaining on their training camp roster.
Adding intrigue to the roster size, however, is the amount of injured players that still remain in camp. Defenseman Josh Gorges returned to a full practice on Sunday and said that he expects to be ready for the season opener, meaning five players with various injuries remain on the camp roster: goaltender Linus Ullmark, forward Cody McCormick and defensemen Bobby Sanguinetti, Zach Bogosian and Brendan Guhle.
“[We] need to have some guys return to health before we make any further roster moves so that’s the biggest part of it,” Bylsma said. “And I anticipate one or two of those guys returning to health sometime this week. We’ll make those decisions when and if they come.”
Guhle, for his part, said he was feeling better on Sunday after sustaining an upper-body injury on a hard hit from Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf when Buffalo hosted Toronto on Tuesday. While he did not practice with the team, Guhle did skate in a separate session afterward.
“I feel good, I feel a lot better than I did the other night so I’m just taking it day-by-day now and getting better every day. It shouldn’t be long before I’m 100 percent,” he said.
Forwards Jamie McGinn, Johan Larsson, Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons shared a rotating line in Sunday’s practice. Bylsma said afterward that there is competition for the final opening-night roster spot within that four-man group.
“I see positives out of having those four guys together and competing for a spot on the opening day roster so that’s why there were four guys in the white and Sam’s right in the middle of that mix,” Bylsma said.
Reinhart, 19, said that he was happy with what he’s accomplished in his second camp but is not yet sure of his spot on the team’s depth chart.
“I don’t think anyone knows right now. But it doesn’t change my attitude whatsoever,” the 2nd-overall pick in 2014 said. “In practice, I’m playing every day to get into the lineup and it’s going to be that way for as long as I’m playing. So that doesn’t bother me at all.”
26 Matt Moulson – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane – 41 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
88 Jamie McGinn – 22 Johan Larsson – 23 Sam Reinhart – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno – 17 David Legwand – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
65 Matt Donovan – 25 Carlo Colaiacovo
29 Jake McCabe -- 3 Mark Pysyk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson