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Sabres will look to spread minutes with Ristolainen out in Dallas

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

DALLAS - As the Buffalo Sabres have battled through injuries to their back end this season, Phil Housley has had to rely on Rasmus Ristolainen more than he hoped. Through 13 games, Ristolainen is the NHL leader in average ice time at 27:09.

Against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night, it will take a team effort to compensate for those minutes. Ristolainen is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and will not play, joining Zach Bogosian, Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges as defensemen currently on the shelf due to injury.

"We're going to have to spread that [ice time] around a little bit," Housley said. "Other guys are getting opportunities, that's the way they've got to look at it."

Video: Preview: BUF at DAL (11/04/17)

Taylor Fedun will enter the lineup in Ristolainen's absence, while Justin Falk will play on the top pair alongside Marco Scandella. Falk made his season debut in Arizona on Thursday after dealing with his own injury to begin the season, tallying two shot attempts and two hits in 15:32.

"Everyone's going to have to pick up a little bit more of the workload," Falk said. "With that, it's just being smart with it too. It's a new situation for everybody with increased minutes and all that, so go out there and be smart with our work."

They'll be tasked with slowing down a talented Dallas forward group, led by the dynamic top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and newcomer Alexander Radulov, all of whom have tallied double-digit points this season. Benn leads the team with seven goals and seven assists for 14 points. 

Video: Housley Pregame Interview at Dallas

One advantage the Sabres may have is scheduling. The Stars are coming off of a long five-game road trip that ended with a 5-2 loss in Winnipeg on Thursday. 

"It's definitely something to take advantage of," alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "You can't hope for too much. I hope they're slow out there and I hope they're not feeling good, but we have to focus on our game. 

"I feel we are fresh up front, really fresh. It's unfortunate, the injuries we have on the back end but we have to have jump."

Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. He'll be opposed by Kari Lehtonen for Dallas.

Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 8 p.m.


O'Reilly's heating up

O'Reilly tallied three assists against Arizona on Thursday, bringing his point total this season to 11. After an admittedly slow start, he's scored 10 points (4+6) in his last eight games. 

"I feel more confident with the puck and feel like I'm making more plays," O'Reilly said. "It's good. I've got to stay within myself and focus on playing the right way, doing the right things and hopefully I continue to contribute."

The Sabres have found consistency in the line of Benoit Pouliot, O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo. The trio combined for eight points in Arizona, with Pouliot netting a pair of goals and Okposo scoring his first of the season. 

Pouliot, who scored just eight goals in 67 games last season, has scored four in his last five games. 


Focus on special teams

Dallas enters the game with a league best 30.8-percent conversion rate on the power play. Benn leads the team with three power-play goals, and his six points tie him for the team lead with defenseman John Klingberg (1+5). 

The key to slowing down their power play, Falk said, is simple: Stay out of the box. 

"With that, it's being assertive when we have to kill the penalty and smart when we have to be in containment, so that they don't get to zip the puck around through the seams," he said. "It'll be a big task for us that I think we're ready to embrace."

The Stars also rank third on the penalty kill at 86.7 percent. Housley moved defenseman Victor Antipin to the top power-play unit in Ristolainen's absence, which O'Reilly said will provide a different look than they're used to.

"He's a really good playmaker," O'Reilly said. "He's really smart, really a great disher, he can make those little soft plays. It's unfortunate we lose that big one-time threat with Risto, but I think it's going to be a different look. He's more of a distributor, get the puck across and make good plays."


Projected lineup

9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart - 25 Seth Griffith
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 17 Jordan Nolan

6 Marco Scandella - 41 Justin Falk
19 Jake McCabe - 5 Matt Tennyson
93 Victor Antipin - 27 Taylor Fedun

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson

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