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Sabres lineup re-introduction
While we get in the swing of things, getting to know the guys again is a good idea
BUFFALO — Don Granato said on Monday the roster is more or less set even though the regular season doesn’t begin for 10 more days for the Sabres (Opening night is Oct. 13 home against Ottawa). They have a pair of preseason games left (Tuesday home against Carolina, Friday in Pittsburgh) and then nearly a full week of practices to follow.
“Our lineup going into the season is pretty laid out,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s been too surprising or shocking, and let’s face it, we’ve got to back our guys. They’ve got a body of work and we’re tiered the way we’re tiered to go in the season and really see which group combination is best at our objective of winning hockey games.”
The awkwardness of the calendar might be a problem in some ways because it’s so much downtime, but without any real hardcore positional battles to be fought, it eases things in a way that has to be a relief of sorts for Granato and the staff. If anything, it makes getting one more look at a bubble player a little trickier because players who are certain to be part of the opening night lineup may want the ice time to be in better form for the regular season.
“Having only two games in the span of 12 days before the opener is fine, it’s actually great if you take advantage of practice,” Granato said. “But for the players, lots of these guys want to play both games. They feel that’s the way they’re going to get ready and there’s too much space in between…You’re going to see pretty close to our lineup just because these guys want the game reps and there’s enough rest in between to get enough rest for the opener.”
They ran lines on Monday and if you can’t draw up what the opening night lineup might look like from them, well…it’s preseason for everyone™ isn’t it?
Jeff Skinner—Tage Thompson—Victor Olofsson
Jack Quinn—Casey Mittelstadt—Alex Tuch
Peyton Krebs—Dylan Cozens—J-J Peterka
Zemgus Girgensons—Rasmus Asplund—Kyle Okposo
Anders Bjork—Riley Sheahan—Vinnie Hinostroza
Mattias Samuelsson—Rasmus Dahlin
Owen Power—Henri Jokiharju
Jacob Bryson—Ilya Lyubushkin
Kale Clague—Chase Priskie
Jeremy Davies—Lawrence Pilut
Injured: Casey Fitzgerald
It’s just a day-to-day thing for Fitzgerald, but he’s assumed to be on the final roster because he would require waivers to go to the AHL and it’s a relatively safe bet he would be claimed.
Pilut does not need waivers, not yet anyway, to go to Rochester. According to CapFriendly.com, he’s pro-rated at 51 games played because of the 2019-2020 COVID-19-shortened season (he’s played 46 actual games) leaving him nine games shy of the 60-game line needed to go on waivers. If Fitzgerald stays banged up for a bit, Pilut making the final roster is great too because he’s been solid in camp in his return to the Sabres.
Lance and I discussed on Maintenance Day about the possible conundrum they’ll have at forward when you look at the group of Bjork, Sheahan, and Hinostroza. Certainly, Hinostroza will make the team and there’s been a presumption he would be somewhere on the third or fourth group of forwards (since we don’t number lines around here anymore and all - I know, I know, just roll with it, ok?).
If Hinostroza’s spot is safe, then who is forward No. 14? It could be Sheahan because faceoffs have been an issue through preseason and he’s more capable of winning them than the others. Remember, winning draws was Cody Eakin’s biggest contribution last season, and it earned him regular ice time. It cannot be ruled out as a reason for a player to win a spot. Then again, if you argued doing things because it’s what worked for Eakin is the worst methodology to take, you wouldn’t be incorrect.
Bjork makes $1.8 million this season and having him go to Rochester would both be costly financially but would also likely cost a young prospect ice time in which the organization would rather give to them. Bjork could really use the final two preseason games to show his strengths and win a spot in the roster outright. It will make most sense if he makes the Sabres roster and Sheahan could go to Rochester and be a veteran influence at center there, but that the debate is there to be had is tough.
In goal, Luukkonen will head to Rochester when it’s go-time, perhaps after Tuesday night’s game. He’s going to play a ton for the Americans and that’s good. In speaking to him a little on Monday, he’s intensely focused on showing what he’s capable of this season and he’s worked a lot on his physical fitness. He’s using the motivation of how his season ended last year—being injured in a collision with Utica Comets forward Ryan Schmelzer during the final game of the regular season—and wants to prove he is the goalie to build the future on.
Group to watch on Tuesday
Keep an eye on the forward group of Krebs, Cozens, and Peterka against Carolina should they remain together. There are defensive questions about them together because Krebs and Peterka both took big strides late last season to improve their all-around game. Cozens is the just-as-young-as-they-are veteran steering the group ahead, but he too is looking to break out this season. Seeing those three click together would be a treat and make the Sabres even more fun to watch.
Krebs’ passing ability is outstanding and Peterka’s speed and scoring touch are just as good. With Cozens being a net-driver and the most physical of the three of them, it has the makings of a classic video game “chemistry” trio where everyone does something to complement the others’ abilities.
It’s been pretty wild to be back in the dressing room to speak with players again. It’s familiar, yet different. Familiar because, duh, it’s part of the gig. Different because it’s been nearly three years since the last time we’ve been back in there.
When you’re on the beat, those conversations and chats were something you kind of took for granted because it became part of the routine. You’d see the players, and they would see you, and you’d chit-chat on and off the record. Sometimes serious, sometimes not at all. It’s one of the joys of the work, to build business relationships of sorts with the players.
It felt different although maybe not for the players who were here back in 2020. I was away from things directly on the beat but was around it just enough (certainly online) to be in the same universe, just not the same orbit. Perhaps my own awkwardness gets me sometimes, but I made it a point on Monday to go around the room and say hello to the guys who remembered me and introduce myself to those that didn’t. Felt like the professional way to do things and breaking down that potentially difficult wall of not knowing each other enough to really make things more relaxed. It’s partially having been there before and getting reacquainted but also about trying to be more actually personable instead of always “needing” something when talking to guys.
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In re-assessing how I worked a room I thought a lot of how I did it was kind of stiff in that I would only chit-chat with someone if I needed something from them. Kind of a crappy way to go about it in my eyes, but maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to be? Either way, I’m less concerned with doing things how everyone else does them and more eager to be just a regular person who just happens to write about the team and players.
This is probably a bit too much navel-gazing but it’s part of what I wanted to talk about with how I’m approaching things now. Any career is about growth and learning to be better and more comfortable in our own skin as opposed to doing it like everyone else does and if that doesn’t fit right, too bad, that’s how it goes so deal with it.
Being more yourself is how to get the best of yourself and others, so let’s adapt that approach at long last.