A minute into the game, the defensive pairings were out the window.
An awkward tangle between Jake McCabe and Gustav Nyquist left McCabe clutching his right arm. He skated off the ice, attempted to return, but by midway through the first period it was clear the Buffalo Sabres would be down to just five defensemen.
That meant technical adjustments for the unit, which collectively put in a good effort to help the Sabres to a 3-2 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings in KeyBank Center Friday night.
“Any time you lose one of the guys in the back end, especially a guy that plays the big minutes like Jake does, you come together as a group,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “You know that everybody is going to play with everybody, so you prepare yourself mentally for that.”
“It was a lot of different D-pairings,” Zach Bogosian said. “I think we all played with everyone there for a while. It is easier to get in the game that way and I thought we responded well when Jake went down first shift.”
Down to a five-man unit, the Sabres defensemen played more minutes than ever before. Rasmus Ristolainen had a career-high 35 minutes and 24 seconds while Bogosian had a season-high 29:51. That extra ice time meant the defenders were able to be more engaged in the game and also required managing their energy.
“Whenever you get a chance to be in the game more, you’re more engaged. Things kind of work out that way,” Bogosian said. “That being said you have to manage your shifts. First off, you’ve got to be aware who you’re out against. If you’re out against the other team’s top line, you’ve got to be smart with your shifts. You pick your battles. You want to jump in the rush but you try to be as smart and intelligent about it as you can.”
Then there’s the makeup of the Sabres blue line, which already has more players with a right-handed shot than a left-handed shot. And McCabe is one of the left shots.
“Well we’re playing with two left shots and four right shots to begin with,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “Then losing a left shot it’s even a more difficult situation back there with just Justin,” Falk “as the lone left shot. So we played a lot of mix-and-match there throughout the game.”
The problem wasn't so much being down to one left-shot defenseman as it was the mixing of pairs. Guys had to be more aware of the technical makeup of their newly minted partner for the shift so as not to fall into the habits they have with their usual teammate on the blue line.
“You’ve got to know what hands the guys are that you’re going out with each shift,” Franson said. “Some guys that play with lefties all the time, you get used to just seeing that left-handed blade when they go to move the puck to him. So when something like that happens, you’ve got to pay attention to that a little more. I think we did a good job of that and trying to keep our shifts short all night.”
Bylsma did not have any further update on McCabe after the game, but the defenseman would not be making the trip to Montreal for Saturday’s game against the Canadiens.
“I’m sure he’s going to get looked at here tomorrow and evaluate where he’s at,” Bylsma said. “It’s an injury he has had in the past.”
Bylsma said that the team will recall a defenseman for Saturday’s game but did not think that Brendan Guhle would be an emergency recall from his major-junior team in Price George, Alberta.
“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” Bylmsa said about who he would recall, “but I don’t think” recall Guhle “will be the case.”
Matt Moulson didn’t even realize he was approaching his 600th NHL game until his wife mentioned something to him earlier this week.
“I think we’re very fortunate to be able to play in the NHL for a living,” Moulson said Friday morning in KeyBank Center. “It’s something you grow up dreaming of and I don’t think you really appreciate it I guess until you’re a little older. ... As you get older you understand how fortunate you are to play in the NHL no matter how you got here. I think little milestones along the way are always special.”
It took Moulson a few seasons to find his NHL footing. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003, he played out his four-year collegiate career at Cornell and signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings. He spent his first pro season with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League and vividly remembers his first NHL game with the Kings against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 7, 2007.
“I was lucky enough to score in my first game getting called up against San Jose,” Moulson said. “I think that’s always a moment when you realize what you’ve worked for up until that point has finally come. I still remember getting called into,” head coach “Mark Morris’ office in Manchester. I thought he was going to yell at me to be honest. He told me I was getting called up. I don’t think I ever smiled so much with anything to do with hockey than that day getting called up.”
With Tyler Ennis back in the lineup, Nicolas Deslauriers was a healthy scratch for the second time in the last three games. Deslauriers missed 19 games this season with a knee injury.
“It’s always difficult to scratch players, not put them in the lineup,” Bylsma said. “Nic in particular is a guy who had some injury situation and worked his way back and he’s been in and out of the lineup but you can only put 12 in there and Nic, while effective at some points in some situations, he’s not going to be in there tonight.”
The Ottawa Senators announced they were shutting down forward Clarke MacArthur for the season. The 31-year old has been dealing with symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. His latest concussion came during a training camp scrimmage in September. It was his fourth concussion in 18 months.
Senators’ General Manager Pierre Dorion told reporters traveling with the team that “Clarke is devastated by this news. He didn't have any symptoms. We all thought Clarke was going to play, including me ... so this came to us as a bit of a shock."