A knock on the Buffalo Sabres over the past few seasons is that they’ve been a quiet group that doesn’t talk much on the ice. As training camp has progressed, you can hear the change already.
During practice, it seems like each day, more and more players are communicating audibly and it’s a welcome change for both the players and coaching staff.
Marcus Foligno considered the talk on the ice, particularly in the defensive zone, as a key component in their 6-1 preseason win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday.
“The biggest thing is we talk a lot in our zone now,” he said. “We’ve got guys like Josh Gorges where you can hear him everywhere on the ice. [Tyler] Myers has been talking more this year. Everyone’s really communicating out there.”
On the blue line, the additions like veterans like Gorges and Andrej Meszaros have already made a huge difference in the dressing room. Both players have been part of teams that have made deep playoff runs – Gorges reached the Eastern Conference Finals with Montreal in 2010 and Meszaros made it to the Stanley Cup Final with Ottawa in 2007.
“When you bring in veteran guys that have played on successful teams and know what it takes to get deep into the playoffs and the finals, those little things – just the little extra talk, the little extra, ‘I’m over here, anything – just helps that much better to get us out of the zone,” Mike Weber said.
“We were in a spot where last year, systems-wise, we weren’t up to snuff. Talking-wise, we weren’t even close to be competitive that way in our defensive zone and that’s why we got trapped down there last year.”
Nolan has also noticed a difference in the group from the start of training camp when it comes to the bonding the team is doing in addition to the higher levels of communication. He also mentioned – yep – Josh Gorges as a player that has made a big impact in that regard.
“He’s out there every day not just practicing his game and getting better, but he’s communicating with everybody. ‘Talk to me. Let me know how much time I have,’” Nolan said.
“He’s really, really good at that and when it’s dark and you’ve got three people around you, you don’t see too much. So you need that voice to guide you out and you need that support. That’s what we’ve been really working on.”
RETURN THE FAVOR
During Wednesday night’s preseason game, there came a moment when Capitals forward Dane Byers challenged Foligno to a fight. Foligno, coming off shoulder surgery in the summer, declined the invitation. However Chris Stewart stepped in to take care of business.
“That was tough last night. I was biting my mouthguard when that happened,” Foligno said. “But it’s preseason. If you’re getting challenged by a guy you’re not really aware of or trying to enter the League, you don’t want to risk it with the offseason I had. It was great for a guy like Chris Stewart to help out a teammate.
Foligno knows he’ll have to make it up t his teammate one way or another.
“Definitely going to have to repay that favor or buy him a steak dinner or something," he said, laughing.
A CAPTAIN IS COMING
Nolan said he is “real close” to naming a captain.
“It hasn’t officially happened yet, but we all know who the leadership is going to be on this team so we’ll officially sit down with the people,” Nolan said. “We haven’t talked to anybody about it, but we all know.”
The team will make more roster cuts sometime after their final preseason game on Friday in Carolina.
THE GOALTENDING BATTLE
Michal Neuvirth will start in goal against the Hurricanes. He’ll look to rebound from his last preseason game.
Jhonas Enroth, the other goalie he’s in a competition with for the starting job, is coming off a 22-save performance against Washington in which he allowed only one goal. Nolan has liked what he’s seen from Enroth so far.
“He seems to have that look in his eye. It’s one of those things you have a feel for and you see,” Nolan said. “I see a different goaltender. I see a guy on a mission and I see a guy with a purpose. He wants that No. 1 job. He’s doing everything in his power to do it with confidence and assurance.”
THURSDAY’S PRACTICE GROUP
80 Chris Stewart – 63 Tyler Ennis – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 23 Sam Reinhart – 20 Zac Dalpe
26 Matt Moulson – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 17 Torrey Mitchell
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 65 Brian Flynn
4 Josh Gorges – 6 Mike Weber
29 Jake McCabe – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
61 Andre Benoit – 24 Tyson Strachan
51 Nikita Zadorov – 41 Andrej Meszaros
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Tyler Myers was a given a maintenance day and did not practice. Nolan was pretty sure that Myers would play Friday night.
Patrick Kaleta and Johan Larsson did not skate as both recover from upper-body injuries.
Defenseman Mark Pysyk skated on his own before practice for the second straight day. He’s been out since Sept. 23 with an upper-body injury.
“He skated today a little better than he did yesterday,” Nolan said. “He’s coming along good so hopefully he gets the green light within the next week or so and start practicing.”