LAS VEGAS - When the Buffalo Sabres took the ice for the first time ever at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas on Tuesday morning, the skate began with a stick tap. It was directed at Kyle Okposo, back on the ice with the team after missing the last two games with an illness.
Okposo will make his return to the lineup when the Sabres meet the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time in franchise history on Tuesday night.
"It hasn't been fun," Okposo said. "Basically sitting in a hotel room for two-and-a-half straight days, with just not good stuff. It's good to be feeling like a human being again, just kind of out and about and just resuming normal activities."
Video: BUF at VGK Preview (10/17/17)
Okposo watched from afar as the Sabres earned their first win of the season in Anaheim on Sunday, not even 24 hours after losing a close game in Los Angeles. He said that the victory helped alleviate some of the mounting pressure on the team, comparing their winless start to a player pressing to get his first goal.
Coincidentally, that's precisely the predicament that Okposo finds himself in to start the season. But although he has yet to tally a point through four games, he saw progress during his last outing in San Josee, when he skated a season-high 20:35 and generated five shots on goal.
"I thought I was better in San Jose," he said. "I was able to generate a little bit of offense instead of just kind of skating around and doing nothing. I just want to be more assertive - assert myself on the game and demand that I make an impact. I think I can start there and try to be better the rest of the way."
Okposo will skate on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is coming off of strong back-to-back outings and scored his first goal of the season in Anaheim, while O'Reilly is another high-impact player still looking to find his offensive game.
"As an individual I think he's been very good in the last two games defensively," Sabres coach Phil Housley said of O'Reilly. "You could see, we're coming up with pucks and we're coming up with speed … He's noticed it. I think maybe he's like to get some more contributions. I think that will come if he keeps playing the way he's been playing the last two or three games."
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 9:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10 p.m.
Scouting the Golden Knights
Video: Pregame: HOUSLEY
It's been a tremendous start for the NHL's newest expansion team. The Golden Knights enter Tuesday's game with a 4-1-0 record and are coming off of a win over Boston on Sunday. They went undefeated through their first three games, giving them the best start by an expansion team in NHL history.
According to Housley, it's their experience that makes them dangerous. Vegas will be without forward Jonathan Marchessault and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, both of whom were placed on injured reserve Sunday, but still boasts a veteran lineup led by James Neal, who has six goals to start the season.
"They're the 10th oldest ranked as far as age in the league," Housley said. "This is a very good team, with some key good veterans, a good back end with some speed who like to jump in and join the rush. We know they can play a lot of ways. They play good defensively, they've been scoring goals at key times, so I think special teams are going to play a key role in tonight's game."
The Golden Knights have done a good job representing their city in the wake of the tragic shooting that left 58 people dead and over 500 injured outside Mandalay Bay on Oct. 1, less than a week ahead of their season opener.
Reinhart's brother, Griffin, plays defense for the Golden Knights and told him how the team has rallied for Vegas.
"I talked to him a lot after that happened," Reinhart said. "It was a tough time right after. But in terms of hockey, they're playing well off of it. The emotions are running high for them and they want to compete. That's the main thing I've heard from this team."
Malcolm Subban, who allowed one goal on 22 shots in his Vegas debut on Sunday, is expected to start in net for the Golden Knights.
Jacob Josefson will not play after a lower-body injury forced him to leave Sunday's game in Anaheim prior to the third period. Housley said Josefson is day-to-day, but added that he did have a good day on Monday.
Chad Johnson will make his second straight start in net for the Sabres, coming off of a 25-save effort in the victory over the Ducks.
"I think it's just in his play," Housley said. "He had a very, very solid game, made some key saves at critical moments. That's why he's getting the start tonight."
Here's the full projected lineup:
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
23 Sam Reinhart - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
67 Benoit Pouliot - 22 Johan Larsson - 95 Justin Bailey
26 Matt Moulson - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 17 Jordan Nolan
6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 5 Matt Tennyson
4 Josh Gorges - 19 Jake McCabe
31 Chad Johnson
40 Robin Lehner