ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Derek Grant came out of nowhere to make the Buffalo Sabres' roster in the preseason on the strength of surprising offense. His role on the team is continuing because of his defense.
Grant has emerged as one of Buffalo's key penalty killers on a unit that entered Tuesday's game in Minnesota having killed off 12 straight man-advantage situations.
Grant played 13 minutes, 3 seconds in Sunday's 3-1 win in Winnipeg, with 6:07 of that time coming with the Sabres short-handed as Buffalo went 6 for 6 in PK work. Other games show more of the same. He had 3:39 of penalty killing time Saturday against Florida, 2:53 in the loss at Vancouver, 4:07 in the overtime loss at Calgary.
"The past few seasons that's kind of been my focus," Grant said. "Play defense and kill penalties, which is something I take a lot of pride in. It starts with faceoffs and for me I want to get involved early in plays. Take the draw, get in the lanes where the pucks are. When you're a man down, you've got to move and work even harder. It's something I've really worked on."
The Sabres entered the game seventh in the NHL on the PK, killing of 26 of 30 penalties, and joining Nashville as the only team perfect at home (8 for 8). The numbers would be even better were it not for the three power-play goals allowed in the third period of last Tuesday's shootout loss in Philadelphia.
"You'd like to scratch a third period from the record, because minus that third period they have done a job in almost every game we've played," said coach Dan Bylsma. "The last two games they had to come up with big kills in the third period to keep the game the way it was. You felt it in Winnipeg and in the Florida game that they're going to step over the boards and kill it off."
Grant led the Sabres in both goals (3) and points (6) in the preseason, a surprising emergence for a player signed on a two-way contract who was certainly ticketed for Rochester when camp began. He has shown he can score in the AHL, with consecutive 20-goal seasons for Binghamton in 2014-15 and Stockton in the Calgary organization last year. He has not scored, however, in 48 career NHL games with Ottawa, Calgary and Buffalo.
Still Grant isn't concerned about his offense, given the way the team has played when short-handed.
"That game in Philly is something you never want to let happen, especially when you realize it cost you a game," he said. "You have to learn from those mistakes and those goals when they happen. We got back focused on what we've done to be successful.
"The last two games we really started playing as a good unit together in all situations, whether it's 5-on-5 or the special teams. From the goalie to the D-men to up front, we're building on each game and that makes things easier."
Forwards Tyler Graovac, Christoph Bertschy and Jordan Schroeder, the reigning AHL Player of the Week, were called up from Iowa by the Wild. Former Sabre Chris Stewart, who did not practice Monday with the flu, was in the lineup. There were some concerns about the salary cap and whether the Wild might have to play one man short if Stewart didn't recover in time. They practiced with just 14 skaters Monday to save on cap expenditures.
Minnesota standouts Zach Parise (foot) and Marco Scandella (ankle) are out with week-to-week injuries suffered in Buffalo last week and former Sabre Zac Dalpe had knee surgery earlier this week.
A good laugh was had by all during Wild coach Bruce Boudreau's morning meeting with reporters when the cell phone of Sabres television analyst beeped three times. Columbus coach John Tortorella is notorious for walking out on reporters and even demanding a charitable contribution, when phones beep during his press conferences.
Said an apologetic Ray: "I'll give you a fine after." Deadpanned Boudreau: "I'm not gonna fight ya."
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in town to meet the Sabres Thursday night in the Buffalo debut of No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews. But it was William Nylander, and not Matthews, who was named NHL Rookie of the Month for October on Tuesday.
Nylander led all rookies in October with 11 points in nine games (four goals and seven assists). Matthews had six goals, including four in the season opener at Ottawa, and four assists.