Prior to the preseason finale for the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Islanders on Friday night, Seth Griffith had said he wanted to save his best for last. Griffith had played well enough through three exhibition games to stick around late in camp; a fourth strong performance, ke knew, could seal his place on the Sabres' roster.
Mission accomplished. Housley said Griffith was one of the team's best forwards against the Islanders, and after Justin Bailey was among four cuts from the training camp roster on Saturday, it appears he's earned his place in the opening night lineup.
"It's an exciting time," Griffith said after practice on Sunday.
Griffith came into camp having had multiple NHL opportunities during his four professional seasons, but he has yet tstick with a club. He played in 30 games for Boston in 2014-15, and played in 24 games for Toronto and Florida last season.
When he signed a one-year deal with Buffalo on July 1, he saw an opportunity for a fresh start with a franchise that was turning a corner with a new general manager in Jason Botterill and a new coach in Phil Housley.
"It was kind of a fresh start for everybody here," he said. "The whole organization has been great to me and helped me along throughout this camp. To be surrounded by good people, it's obviously a great atmosphere."
"I think his attitude is infectious, and he's got to play like he has the last two games," Housley said. "He's got to be up in the forecheck. Everybody can compete in their own way. I know he's a smaller guy but he gets on pucks and finds a way to win puck battles."
Griffith believes Housley's system, which demands pace, will bring the best out of him. After playing well alongside Sam Reinhart through two periods on Friday, Housley placed him on a line with Buffalo's two most dynamic skaters in Evander Kane and Jack Eichel beginning in the third.
The trio couldn't find the back of the net, but they did generate multiple scoring chances. Griffith remained on their line for practice on Sunday.
"They're super fast and that's the way I like to play," Griffith said. "We didn't end up scoring on them, but we had some good chances. We were moving the puck pretty well today, but I think it will come as chemistry develops too."
They'll have three more days to develop that chemistry before the Sabres open the regular season against Montreal on Thursday night. Griffith has earned his right to be there; next he'll look to prove he can stay.
"It doesn't matter who you are, there's always going to be somebody looking to take your spot," he said. "I think that's why we're out here, we're doing competition drills, keeping the competition high, kind of placing an emphasis on that kind of stuff to make sure guys are going hard."
Bailey is 'close' to sticking in NHL
Although Griffith ultimately claimed the roster spot, Housley said it shouldn't take away from the camp that Bailey had.
"First of all, Justin had a terrific training camp," Housley said. "With our roster size, you've got to make difficult decisions. He's got to go back with the same attitude he had in camp down in Rochester and be a leader down there. He's close."
Bailey, a second-round pick in 2013, is entering his third professional season. He scored 36 points (23+13) in 52 games with Rochester last season.
Bogosian misses practice
Zach Bogosian did not practice on Sunday after leaving Friday's game against New York late in the third period with a lower-body injury. Housley said he is day-to-day, but has not been ruled out for Thursday.
"We'll reevaluate that tomorrow, but he seems to be in a good spot," Housley said. "We'll know more tomorrow."
Bogosian's injury subtracts from an already depleted defense corps, with Jake McCabe currently listed as week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Marco Scandella is also returning from offseason hip surgery, although he has been a regular at practice.
The Sabres had seven defensemen on the ice Sunday: Scandella, Rasmus Ristolainen, Josh Gorges, Matt Tennyson, Victor Antipin and Justin Falk. Brian Duff caught up with Falk in Sunday's Sabres Now, which you can find here later this afternoon.
Lines at practice
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 25 Seth Griffith
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart - 29 Jason Pominville
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson/10 Jacob Josefson - 17 Jordan Nolan
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Marco Scandella/4 Josh Gorges - 5 Matt Tennyson
93 Victor Antipin - 41 Justin Falk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson