The Buffalo Sabres, winners of three straight for the first time this season, had a productive practice at First Niagara Center on Monday after a day off.
The Sabres are coming off a 2-1 victory Saturday night on the road against the Washington Capitals and have a few days to prepare before the Winnipeg Jets come to town on Wednesday.
Buffalo started the season with a rough stretch, but Sabres coach Ted Nolan has seen the team make many positive strides over the past few games.
“In the last couple weeks, things have slowly started turning. And when you get wins through your work and you see the results, it makes you believe a little bit more,” Nolan said. “Right now, the guys are feeling good about themselves. They’ve got good spirits and now we’ve just got to learn to keep it going.”
Buffalo’s top line, consisting of Zemgus Girgensons at center and Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis on the wings, has been very productive as of late, but the team’s recent success can also be attributed to another line putting up points.
Over the past five games, left wing Brian Flynn, center Torrey Mitchell and right wing Brian Gionta have found some chemistry. Flynn has a goal and two assists, Gionta has two goals and an assist and Mitchell has two goals over that span.
“The three of us have the same mentality going into games. We try to outwork whoever we’re lining up against,” Mitchell said. “Obviously we’re trying to do that throughout our entire lineup, but at least the three of us, we’re not All Stars or the most skilled guys, so outworking and having that mentality is a key to our success for sure.”
Mitchell scored the game-winning goal Saturday in Washington, minutes after taking a hard shoot-in off the foot. It looked like he might miss some time, but came back in order to shovel in a Gionta rebound.
“[They’re] three hard-working guys that read and react off each other,” Nolan said. “They’re three intelligent men to begin with and they study their craft. Their character really steps to the forefront.”
Flynn was a healthy scratch for nine of the season’s first 11 games and has quickly established himself this season as a reliable player in all three zones.
“He never complained about it. I knew he was disappointed but he never complained,” Nolan said. “He kept working and now all of a sudden, he’s arguably on our No. 2 line 10 games later.
“Mitchell’s doing the same thing. He’s working. And Gionta, his goal production maybe wasn’t there, but his leadership certainly was. It’s great to see that line going for us.
REMEMBERING PAT QUINN Irbe also commented
Many lives have been affected by the passing of hockey icon Pat Quinn and members of the Sabres organization are among them.
Quinn coached Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Tyler Myers to a gold medal in 2009 as part of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team.
They, along with Nolan and assistant coaches Bryan Trottier and Arturs Irbe, shared their memories of the late coach.
on the passing of former Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov
, whom he played for.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth was back at practice for the first time since sustaining a bruised knee that forced him to leave after the first period of last Wednesday’s game against San Jose.
He’s set to back up Jhonas Enroth, who made 43 saves last game, when the Sabres host the Jets.
“The practice went good today so I should be ready,” Neuvirth said.
Myers was going to take a maintenance day, but he decided to take the ice toward the end of practice for a brief work out. His teammates, who at this point were stretching at center ice, spotted him and started to cheer him on as he took some shots into an empty net.
“They gave me a funny welcome, so that was pretty funny on their part,” Myers said. “I’ll have to find a way to give it back to them.”
Josh Gorges, who’s been out since Nov. 11 with a lower-body injury and is currently on injured reserve, skated on his own, but did not practice with the team. Nolan considers his return ahead of schedule.
“He’s a pretty optimistic guy and even when he got hurt, our medical staff said he was way ahead of schedule even a couple days later,” Nolan said. “He skated out there today. He surprised me and we’ll go from there.”
Cody McCormick, however, is going through concussion protocol and it’s not yet known when he’ll be able to return to action. He sustained a head injury last game and Nolan said they’ll be very cautious with his recovery.
Nolan said the team will likely have to call up a center from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League for the game on Wednesday.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 36 Patrick Kaleta – 80 Chris Stewart
24 Tyson Strachan – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
61 Andre Benoit
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
31 Matt Hackett
Did Not Practice: 4 Josh Gorges (injured reserve, lower body), 8 Cody McCormick (injured)