The Sabres and their fans had a good time this summer drawing up line combinations and defense pairs. Buffalo’s roster additions made the activity way more fun than previous years.
When the Sabres open the 2016-17 season Thursday night in KeyBank Center, the lines and pairs won’t look anything like the good old summertime.
Center Jack Eichel, prized free agent Kyle Okposo and trade-acquisition Dmitry Kulikov will sit out the game against Montreal with various injuries. Eichel, of course, is out with a high-ankle sprain suffered Wednesday. Coach Dan Bylsma termed the sprain as “moderate.”
“Certainly more weeks than days at this point,” Bylsma said after the morning skate.
A typical high-ankle sprain keeps players out for 45 days, which would sideline Eichel until Thanksgiving, but the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society and sports physiotherapists say recovery could take up to 12 weeks.
Okposo (bruised knee) may return to practice Friday and could play Sunday in Edmonton. Kulikov is still suffering from the butt bruise he suffered when checked into the door to Toronto’s bench during the preseason.
With those players out, the lines will be:
Evander Kane-Ryan O’Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Tyler Ennis-Johan Larsson-Marcus Foligno
Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-Hudson Fasching
Nicolas Deslauriers-Derek Grant-Brian Gionta
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have to step up,” said Larsson, who moves up one line. “I want to play my role as good as I can but also be better offensively, be more consistent, chip in some goals.”
Fasching has also taken a leap up the lineup, pushing captain Gionta down to the fourth line.
“Every game he’s played, he’s added solid play where he’s strong – below the hash marks, in the offensive zone, at the net – but the details of his game are extremely good,” Bylsma said of Fasching. “He’s a guy that every time he’s been on the ice he’s had a positive effect, be it on the offensive side or defensive side of the puck.”
Fasching played seven games at the end of last season after signing out of the University of Minnesota. He’s thrilled to start the year in Buffalo.
“It’s definitely a good opportunity to show what I’ve got out there in a regular-season game, prove that I should be there and continue to earn my spot,” he said. “I’m not the flashiest player out there, but I’ve really prided myself on making sure I have all the systems down and I’m in the right spot all the time, doing my job consistently.”
Defenseman Casey Nelson will step in for the ailing Kulikov, joining Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Cody Franson and Jake McCabe on the back end.
Robin Lehner will start in goal, as expected.
The power-play units featured Ennis-Reinhart-Moulson, with Ristolainen and O’Reilly; and Kane-Grant-Gionta, with Franson and McCabe.
Eichel, Okposo and Kulikov would have all been on the power play.
“It’s going to be tough, but we have a pretty deep lineup,” O’Reilly said. “We have a lot of guys that can score, a lot of guys that can create. To a man, we all know it’s going to be a bit extra from us.
“Coming in tonight with the first game, we have to start the right way and make sure we’re playing the right way.”