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Sabres notebook: Bogosian comfortable as top-pair defenseman

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Zach Bogosian has been a top-pair defenseman. He’s been a power-play specialist. But until the Sabres’ previous game, he hadn’t been both in Buffalo this year.

It went so well that he got a chance to do it again Monday.

With Josh Gorges out for the second straight game because of an upper-body injury, Bogosian again skated alongside Rasmus Ristolainen and manned the point on the power play as the Sabres come away with a 2-1 victory over Arizona.

Bogosian and Ristolainen kept Washington’s top line featuring Alex Ovechkin off the score sheet Saturday while combining for three assists and a plus-4 rating.

“Playing with Rasmus is fun,” Bogosian said in Gila River Arena. “We made a lot of good breakouts. I think both of us got the puck and moved it real quick.”

Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma expected a few hiccups with the pairing because the right-handed Bogosian was forced to play on the left side. Instead, the transition was smooth.

“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,” Bylsma said. “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.”

Bogosian was the Sabres’ go-to defenseman last season after being acquired from Winnipeg, but Bylsma shifted him to a second-pair role with Jake McCabe after Bogosian missed the opening 17 games with an injury. He had two assists, two blocked shots, a hit and was plus-2 while skating on the top pair against Washington.

Bogosian improved his season totals to one goal, seven points and minus-10 in 28 games.

“He’s been playing well,” Ristolainen said. “He’s a big body for our team, big leader, so it’s nice to have him healthy.”

One of Bogosian’s assists came on the power play. He’s averaging just 58 seconds of ice time with the man-advantage, but he skated 4:15 against at the Capitals.

Bylsma typically uses four forwards and one blue-liner during power plays, but he shifted to Bogosian and Franson on the point for the second unit with Evander Kane, Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta up front.

“It feels good,” Bogosian said. “I’ve done it my whole career, so I’m pretty comfortable back there. It’s nothing new to me. I just try to get out there and show that I can do it.”

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Bylsma’s plan is to use goaltenders 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, Johnson got his second straight start Monday. Lehner will play Wednesday in Colorado.

“The plan was to have them play one game each on this road trip,” Bylsma said. “The order might have changed, but not the number.”

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Byslma may have to be careful what he asks for in regards to Mark Pysyk. The mild-mannered defenseman played Saturday for the first time since Nov. 17, and he recorded elbowing and interference penalties. The two infractions doubled his season output.

“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,” Bylsma said. “It was good to see Mark get in the game. His skating was evident.”

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Gionta turned 37 years old Monday, with the players giving him celebratory stick taps as the morning skate got underway.

The captain again skated as the right winger for center Johan Larsson and left wing Marcus Foligno.

“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.

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

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Bylsma made sure the relatives who are on the Sabres’ annual parent trip felt like part of the team. He invited them to sit in for the pregame meetings.

“We always have had them sit in on a meeting and go through the routine with their sons,” the coach said. “They’re probably more ready to play the game than their kids might be.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com