Closing out games has been an issue for the Buffalo Sabres in the past week or so.
The Buffalo Sabres open the new calendar year with a home game against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the Tops Gamenight pregame show beginning at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Buffalo is 1-4-1 in its past five games and has been outscored 11-4 in third periods over that stretch. They’ve also allowed one overtime goal.
Buffalo surrendered four unanswered goals Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-1 loss, including three in the third. Buffalo generated one shot in that final frame.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said they’ll focus on taking shorter shifts, which will hopefully lead to more pressure in the offensive zone.
“When you get fatigued, that’s when you make some mental mistakes and you start going in where you shouldn’t go into. We’ll try to rectify that by hopefully shortening our shift lengths,” he said.
“And if you don’t change, it’s like nothing good happens after 2 in the morning. You’d rather cut your losses real quick. If you don’t get it out, don’t try to extend it down the other [end of the ice] because when you come back, that’s when bad things happen.”
Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons said not getting caught on the ice for extended stints in the defensive zone will also allow them to stay energized throughout the game.
“Shorter shifts will make a huge difference for us, going through the all 60 minutes and just doing the simple things to have a good game,” he said.
Michal Neuvirth will start in net and Buffalo will get Rasmus Ristolainen back on the blue line. He’d missed the past two games due to the flu bug that’s afflicted some of the players over the past week.
Ristolainen will be reunited with Nikita Zadorov on a defensive pairing. He thinks he’ll be able to handle an extended workload as well. He’d been filling in for injured defenseman Tyler Myers, picking up some additional minutes. Before he left the game on Dec. 20 due to the illness, he played at least 26:30 in each of the past three games.
He’s welcomed those additional duties and will find himself back on the first power-play unit. Watching the last few have been tough for him and he thinks sticking with the game plan for all three periods will pay big dividends moving forward.
“We just have to keep the mental focus,” he said. “It’s true, the last couple weeks, sometimes we lead the game and it’s tied and then in the third period, the other team just scores too many goals. We have to keep our focus.”
Myers took the morning skate and will join the team in New York City this weekend. He could be ready by the time the team faces the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.
TIME TO SHINE
Buffalo’s two recalls from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League will really be in positions to succeed as they’re both on scoring lines. Nolan switched up some of the lines at Thursday’s practice and made one additional swap at the morning skate.
Mikhail Grigorenko will play between Brian Flynn and Chris Stewart. Johan Larsson is now up from the fourth line and will play center on a line with Cody Hodgson and Drew Stafford. Larsson centered the fourth line on Thursday.
“Any player coming into the League, you want to make sure you don’t make mistakes. But also, you want to do something in order to stay in the lineup and contribute,” Nolan said. “We’re looking for something a little bit better from both those guys.”
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 22 Johan Larsson – 21 Drew Stafford
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 24 Tyson Strachan
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
34 Michal Neuvirth
1 Jhonas Enroth
Scratched: 12 Brian Gionta (injured, upper body), 61 Andre Benoit
Injured Reserve: 17 Torrey Mitchell (lower body), 57 Tyler Myers (lower body), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)