Changes to the top forward lines and the defensive pairings have worked out for the Buffalo Sabres lately.
With alternate captain Josh Gorges
out with a lower-body injury, Tyler Myers
needed a new defensive partner. In Buffalo’s 6-2 win over Toronto on Saturday, Tyson Strachan
, a right-hand shot, shifted over to the left side to play next to the 6-foot-8 Myers.
Strachan played a season-high 22:54 and picked up a secondary assist on Zemgus Girgensons’ shorthanded goal in Buffalo's 6-2 win over Toronto.
He now has four assists in nine games this season, which not only matches his career high for points, but also leads the defense in scoring.
What can he attribute that success to?
“Good forwards, I guess?” he said, laughing after practice at First Niagara Center on Monday. “I think three of my four assists, I’ve probably had from my own zone so it’s not like I’m making backdoor passes. I’m getting pucks out. The point the other night, it’s a shorthanded goal.
“All I’m doing is trying to ice the puck and Flynn goes down and makes an unbelievable play. Gussy takes it and makes another great play and puts it in an open net. I’ll take those assists all day, but it’s nothing special. I’m not working the power play or anything.”
He’s spent a bulk of his career bouncing between the NHL and the minors, filling in whenever teams have needed him to step into the lineup. So far, the calm, steady defensive defenseman has taken advantage of the situation presented before him in Buffalo. After sitting out nine of the first 10 games, he may have finally found his footing.
“I’ve had to be patient my whole career. I’ve always played myself into jobs not played out of them,” he said. “So I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity and I’m going to keep battling every day like that. If there’s an assist coming, bouncing off people’s backs or whatever they are, I’ll take them.”
The duo of Mike Weber and Andrej Meszaros was a combined plus-5 on Saturday. Each picked up an assist as well.
And Sabres coach Ted Nolan has continued to be impressed by the pairing of Buffalo’s 2013 first-round selections Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.
Zadorov is eligible to play in one more game before the team must decide whether to keep him in Buffalo and activate his entry-level contract or return him to his junior club, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
“I try not to assume, but I’m more than positive he’s earned his keep,” Nolan said of Zadorov.
He’ll be in the lineup against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. as Nolan said he’ll keep the lineup intact. That means goaltender Michal Neuvirth will start between the pipes once again. He was in net when the Sabres beat the Sharks 2-1 in San Jose on Oct. 25.
A week ago at practice, Nolan tried a few new forward combinations, including moving Tyler Ennis to right wing on a line with Girgensons at center and Matt Moulson on the other side.
Playing together 5-on-5 the past three games has sparked a little offense in each of them in all situations. Moulson has a goal and four assists, Girgensons has three goals and an assist and Ennis has two goals and three assists over that span.
Moulson thinks a bulk of those scoring opportunities have come because of stronger – and shorter – play in the defensive zone.
“Much like the team-wise, it starts in the D-zone. Zemgus has been down low for the most part and he’s a great defensive player,” he said. “We seem to be getting out and getting on pucks in our zone and creating chances and putting away our chances. We still have a lot of room to improve, but we’re on the right path.”
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 19 Cody Hodgson – 80 Chris Stewart – 36 Patrick Kaleta
24 Tyson Strachan – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
61 Andre Benoit
34 Michal Neuvirth
1 Jhonas Enroth
Did not skate: 4 Josh Gorges (injured, lower-body), 31 Matt Hackett (He was being fitted for a new goalie mask)