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Sabres Notebook: Defense starting to find the lanes

For the first time this season, the Buffalo Sabres had two goals scored in a game by a defenseman.

Although, that could change.

In Thursday's 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers, the Sabres got goals from defenders Justin Falk and Rasmus Ristolainen. Only Ryan O'Reilly got his stick on the shot from Ristolainen, which was a power-play goal for Buffalo late in the third period.

"I thought I tipped it," O'Reilly said of the goal. "I think they're looking at it."

Which is all fine with Ristolainen.

"I mean personally I don't really care who scores. I would like to win," Ristolainen said. "That's why we play hockey. I want to win. I want to be a winner."

Whether Ristolainen keeps credit for the goal or ends with the primary assist, the Sabre defense collectively had a solid night of contributing on the offensive side of the game.

Falk scored his first goal in 101 games and just his third in 245 games. Even Josh Gorges got into the action, having two of his shots go off the post.

"We had a couple guys with shots through from the point and that always leads to good things and more continued offense that you play off the shot," Falk said. "The forwards did a good job of working hard to get the puck back to the point and ultimately getting to the net and fighting to get there for screens. We keep working hard like that, good things will come."

"I think in today's game you need to have D active but you're just trying to get shots to the net," Gorges said. "On Falk's goal, on Risto's goal, it's a great job by the forwards getting in the goalie's eyes and creating havoc and that makes it tough for them. We're going to do our part to try and get shots through as best we can. It comes down to when the forwards are down there, it make a world of difference."

That world of difference, known as "net-front presence" in hockey speak, has been lacking in the Sabres game. It showed signs of life in Thursday's loss. While the defensemen were moving the puck with speed and finding shot lanes, the forwards were going to the front of the net to screen Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

"I think it's coming – the offensive zone scheme and what we want to do as a five-man attack," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We're getting those opportunities to get the puck low to high. The D are finding the lanes now as you saw Gorges hit two posts and Falk cashed in on a nice, quick shot. We continue to work on that, but I think also it has to do with our net-front presence. We did a really good job in front of Lundqvist and we've got to continue to do that. But our D are trying to find lanes now. They're doing it quicker which doesn't allow the other team to get in the shot lane. I liked that part of our game last night."

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Kyle Okposo missed practiced on Friday but Housley said it was a maintenance day for the forward.

Housley said that Victor Antipin, who has missed 11 straight games in part due to the flu, "will be re-evaluated" on Saturday.

Nathan Beaulieu (illness) and Jacob Josefson (lower body) also missed practice on Friday but Housley said "they're getting closer. They skated on their own today so that was a good sign. Moving forward, hopefully they'll get in some practices."

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Dallas comes to Buffalo off a 2-1 shootout loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Thursday. The Stars have been hot of late, going 10-4-3 since Dec. 11 to play themselves into the top spot in the Western Conference wild card race and just four points out of the Central Division lead.

Defense has been a key point for Dallas. In those 17 games, the Stars have surrendered two or fewer goals 11 times – quite a change from last season when they ranked second to last in the league in goals-against average. This season, they rank ninth in goals-against allowing just 2.68 per game. A key that has been the acquisition of goaltender Ben Bishop, who has a 2.46 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 37 appearances this season.

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