No one has moved around the Sabres’ lineup more than Justin Bailey lately. In the last four games alone, the right winger has started on three lines with six different forwards.
Wherever the rookie is skating, Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma expects the same thing.
“He’s got the ability and the potential to be a guy that can add with speed and skating and force,” Bylsma said Saturday. “That’s what he’s done when he’s played well.”
Bailey started Saturday’s game against Columbus alongside center Zemgus Girgensons and left wing Marcus Foligno. In Columbus on Friday, Bailey was on the top line with Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane.
Bylsma said Bailey’s attributes need to shine no matter the line or situation.
“You’re trying to develop and grow within our organization,” the coach said in KeyBank Center. “This is a huge opportunity for him to show just the type of effective player he can be.”
The back-to-back meetings between Buffalo and Columbus were a first for the franchises. It’s certainly not the first time it’s happened, though.
It was the 161st time Buffalo has participated in a home-and-home series. The Sabres have gone 56-75-29 in the road games and entered KeyBank Center with a 90-46-24 record in the home games. They are 70-60-30 on the opening night and entered Saturday with a 76-61-23 record on the second.
The Sabres had swept 31 series and lost both games 23 times.
Columbus coach John Tortorella wasn’t thrilled with Friday’s 4-3 victory, saying the Blue Jackets won even though they “weren’t that good.”
He eased up on his club before Saturday’s game.
“We have to be really careful here,” Tortorella said. “Don't pick apart the team because it's not always perfect. We've been very fortunate because I think the players have gone about their business each day to be the best they can be.
“In a long season, you're not going to have all these great minutes. I think sometimes people get spoiled. That's part of my job, managing that part. Not only with you guys but more important with the team, to make sure the expectation and how we manage the season is done properly.”
Saturday’s game was the battle of seldom-used backups. Buffalo went with goaltender Anders Nilsson for just the third time in 16 games. Columbus started Joonas Korpisalo, who was playing for just the fourth time in 18 games.
Defenseman Josh Gorges reached the goal column Friday, leaving Justin Falk and Nicolas Deslauriers as the only Sabres without goals this season. It’s Gorges’ work without the puck that earned Bylsma’s praise.
“He’s been the card-carrying member of how we want to play with being tough, aggressive, physical and putting his body on the line for the team,” Bylsma said. “That’s got to be the mantra for our team.”