One of Ted Nolan’s messages to the Sabres since taking over is to be consistent. He reinforced the words by being consistent with Buffalo’s forwards. Despite their struggles, Nolan essentially kept his lines intact. He gave them every opportunity to mesh and improve.
They didn’t, so time’s up.
Buffalo is expected to go with four new line combinations tonight when Ottawa visits First Niagara Center. Nolan debuted the units during Monday’s practice after watching his team score 10 times in eight games.
“He definitely gave every line a chance,” right wing Drew Stafford said. “Obviously, now it’s gotten to that point where something needs to happen.”
The biggest shakeup involved the top line of Stafford, center Cody Hodgson and left wing Matt Moulson. They will all be on different lines after extended slumps. Stafford has no goals in 13 games, Moulson has two in 16 and Hodgson has one goal and one assist in 10 outings.
“Our top line is having a little trouble,” Nolan said. “Maybe the chemistry isn’t quite right, so we talked to them and decided instead of trying to have one we’ll have three. We have to get this thing turned around together.”
The lines Monday featured Moulson skating with the hot duo of center Tyler Ennis and right wing Zemgus Girgensons, Stafford with center Steve Ott and left wing Marcus Foligno, and Hodgson in the middle of Luke Adam and Matt D’Agostini. The fourth line was a four-player unit of Ville Leino, Cody McCormick, Brian Flynn and John Scott.
“It doesn’t really matter which line you’re playing with,” Hodgson said. “You’ve got to play your game, and maybe we’ll adapt or mesh. Hopefully, it does.”
The moves were a boost to the statuses of Ennis, Girgensons and Foligno. The stocks of Hodgson and Leino fell.
Ennis and Girgensons have three goals and five points in two games, and they should get even more ice time with Moulson. Foligno had been skating on the fourth line but has impressed recently.
“Everybody told me how he was going to be a big, powerful forward and be a force,” Nolan said. “Then I when I got here I saw a big guy. I didn’t see a powerful guy. He wasn’t using his attributes to his benefit. He’s a big man that can be a little bit more physical. He’s been doing that lately, and in return he’s been playing really well for us.”
Hodgson’s new wingers have combined for one goal in 11 games. Leino is in danger of being scratched after failing to score in all of his 18 games.
“Ville’s not the only one,” Nolan said. “We’ve got to get certain people playing better. Playing OK is not good enough. We have to play better.”
Defenseman Brayden McNabb will return to the Sabres’ lineup after sitting for four games, including a one-day trip to Rochester. McNabb practiced with the Sabres’ second power-play unit, working the blue line with Tyler Myers.
“He’s right there at the cusp of being a permanent NHL player,” Nolan said.
Defenseman Alexander Sulzer returned to practice after missing two games with an injury, but he’s not ready to play.
Finland has named Rasmus Ristolainen to its roster for the world junior championships. It appears the Sabres will allow the first-round pick to go.
“I’m quite sure we’ll give him permission to play there,” Nolan said.
Ristolainen, sent to Rochester last month, has been out since suffering a concussion Nov. 29.
The Sabres will begin their winter clothing drive at tonight’s game. Fans visiting the arena are encouraged to bring new or gently used coats, hats, gloves, sweaters, boots and scarves. All donated items will be given to the Buffalo City Mission, which will have representatives on hand to accept cash donations.
The drive will continue with home games Saturday against Calgary, next Tuesday against Winnipeg and Dec. 19 versus Boston. Fans who donate will receive coupons for $25 off a 300 Level II ticket for select upcoming games.