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Sabres ready for Coyotes with Johnson in net, thriving defense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Dan Bylsma’s plan was to use Chad Johnson and Robin Lehner once each on the Sabres’ two-game road trip. Johnson threw a curve into the order.

After being the First Star against Washington on Saturday, Johnson will get his second straight start Monday night when the Sabres visit the Arizona Coyotes. Lehner will play Wednesday in Colorado.

“The plan was to have them play one game each on this road trip,” Bylsma said after the morning skate in Gila River Arena. “The order might have changed, but not the number.”

Johnson stopped 33 of 34 shots against the Capitals to improve to 11-12-2. He got help from the Sabres’ revamped defense.

With Josh Gorges out because of an upper-body injury, the Sabres’ new top pair featured Zach Bogosian and Rasmus Ristolainen. They combined for three assists and a plus-4 rating. Gorges will miss his second straight game, leaving the blue-line group intact.

“I thought there was going to be an adjustment period with Zach just being on his off side, dealing with execution, dealing with working with his partner,” said Bylsma, referring to the right-handed Bogosian skating on the left side. “It actually looked like it was real comfortable. He was real comfortable and they were real comfortable working together and him being able to execute and break out, support each other.”

The Sabres’ other defense pairs will be Mike Weber-Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe-Cody Franson. Pysyk 15:16 on Saturday in his first game since November.

“It was good to see Mark get in the game,” Bylsma said. “His skating was evident. I thought he skated real well. We’ve asked him to be a little harder defender and be more aggressive, and he goes out and takes two penalties, so he showed us a little bit of that as well.

“He was able to take rushes and take speed and skill and defend well with his skating. That’s what he can bring and what he did bring.”

The Sabres’ lines against the Coyotes will be Evander Kane-Ryan O’Reilly-Sam Reinhart, Phil Varone-Jack Eichel-Jamie McGinn, Marcus Foligno-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta, and Matt Moulson-Tim Schaller-David Legwand. Gionta turned 37 years old Monday.

“I said it is a real honor to be that old and playing the game,” Bylsma said. “He’s been a big part of that line. That line’s stepped up for us in really a checking role against other team’s top lines. Larsson, Marcus and Brian have done a real good job in doing that.

“To have the old guy being the worker and driver of the team, that’s what we need.”

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