Victor Antipin's progression on the ice is kind of like having a conversation with the rookie from Kazakhstan: It's slow and steady, with improvement coming each day.
The KHL signee scored his first goal of the preseason in Wednesday's 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh and was by far the most engaged with the play that he's been at any point thus far with the Buffalo Sabres.
"It was a good team to play against, really good players," said Antipin, who easily understood a reporter's questions Thursday after practice in KeyBank Center and was able to put together steady responses as he continues to learn English. "It was an interesting game. Lot of fun. Every game I'm feeling more comfortable."
"It has to be difficult for him with the language, coming to a new country and learning our system," coach Phil Housley said of Antipin, 24, "His game against Pittsburgh was his best game by far. He defended well, had a good stick, had inside body position, a good first pass and got up the ice, which we want him to do."
Antipin played 18:18 in the game and posted a plus-2 rating. The Sabres had a 42-27 advantage in shots on goal and a 61-39 bulge in shot attempts. He scored the Sabres' opening goal in the first period, taking a cross-ice pass from Zemgus Girgensons and beating Penguins goaltender Antti Niemi with a low shot between the legs.
"I joined the rush and there was a good pass there," Antipin said. "I just took the shot. I like this style very much, this system."
"Victor read the play beautifully, nice pass, put a good shot on net," Housley said. "That's good for him and his confidence."
Antipin struggled in his first game against Penguins last week at Penn State, getting nailed for three minor penalties during the Sabres' overtime win. He had a strong night here Saturday against Toronto and followed that with his performance in the rematch with Pittsburgh.
Housley gave Antipin another boost in practice Thursday by pairing him with Rasmus Ristolainen.
"Every game I'm feeling better and better," Antipin said. "The first game was no good for me, no good at all. But it's been better. I understand more how we like to play. Rasmus is a very good defenseman. I was very comfortable playing with him. I've learned a lot from everyone here."
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The Sabres sent winger Nick Baptiste to Rochester on Thursday after he only got into two preseason games and failed to register a point.
"Nick had a slow start in the Prospects Challenge but I think his game carried forward, which was why he was here up to this point," Housley said. "He's a big kid. He's like a power forward but has a knack for scoring. I'd like to see him do things a little bit quicker like we talked about.
"He's certainly a future player for us. We need depth at the wing position for sure. It will good for him to go down there, be a leader in Rochester and work his way back up."
Free agent signee Seth Griffith and returnee Justin Bailey seem to be ahead of Baptiste on the depth chart, and the team's forward ranks got even more crowded with the waiver acquisition of Jordan Nolan on Wednesday.
Baptiste, 22, had three goals and an assist in 14 games for the Sabres last year while making his NHL debut but figures to be a key goal scorer for the Amerks. He had 25 goals and 16 assists for Rochester last year.
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After practice Thursday, the Sabres sent goaltender Linus Ullmark back to Rochester, where he is expected to be the starter. The Amerks have a pair of exhibition games coming up against the Toronto Marlies, Friday night at RIT and Saturday at 7 in HarborCenter.
The Sabres' roster is now down to 31 players (18 forwards, 11 defensemen and two goaltenders). They have to get down to 23 by Tuesday afternoon in advance of Thursday's opener against Montreal.
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The NHL announced Wednesday it has finished a six-year project to digitize statistics from every game in the league's history dating to 1917 and they are now available to the public on NHL.com. Previously, individual player logs and game-by-game reports were sketchy in most cases prior to the mid-1980s.
One thing the research did was change stats from older years and move players up and down team leaderboards. According to Ian Ott, the Sabres' manager of media relations and chief statistical guru, two current players have climbed in franchise annals because of more accurate information being uncovered.
Winger Evander Kane's 271 shots on goal during the 2015-16 season now rank him 10th in club history for a single year and Chad Johnson's 2.36 goals-against average in 2015-16 is now the 10th-best by a Buffalo goaltender in a season (minimum 25 games played).
Ott said the team is now embarking on a project to update all of its goaltending records. The league's research will change goals-against averages for roughly the first 17 years of the franchise's history because it has locked in complete time on ice for goaltenders, rather than estimates.