Dan Bylsma has said several times he’s uncomfortable with the Sabres’ spot in the standings. He made the playoffs every year while coaching Pittsburgh, so he never knew when the season would end. He knows 24th-place Buffalo is done in a week.
Still, he’s not going to change anything with the team going on its last long road trip of the year.
After departing Buffalo on Friday afternoon, the Sabres will visit the New York Rangers on Saturday and the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. It’s the last chance for the players and coaches to spend a couple of days together, but bringing home victories trumps making more memories.
“Right now the focus is so singularly focused on winning hockey games,” said Bylsma, whose team is 5-2-2 in the last nine games. “You feel like at the time of the season when you need to win hockey games, we have a positive record. That’s really the focus still for our group.
“We’re playing a playoff team in the Rangers the next game, and it’s another taste for us to know what playoff hockey is like this time of year.”
After a pedestrian 6-5-3 record in March, the Rangers are third in the Metropolitan Division with 95 points. They’re one point behind second-place Pittsburgh and two ahead of the New York Islanders with one more game played. The Penguins and Islanders play each other Saturday afternoon.
Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal against the Sabres in Madison Square Garden.
“They have that pride where they’re going to leave everything out there,” Lundqvist told reporters in New York. “A lot of players are playing for jobs next season. They’re going to come hard.”
The Sabres will close their home schedule Friday against Columbus and finish the season next Saturday against the Islanders in Brooklyn. Bylsma is still hoping for reinforcements.
Goaltender Jason Kasdorf (groin) and forward Tyler Ennis (concussion) skipped the road trip to remain in Buffalo and practice.
“I’m still hoping that we could have a healthy Tyler Ennis for the last five days,” Bylsma said in First Niagara Center. “Whether that means a game or not, I don’t know, but I’d like to see him. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Kasdorf practiced fully for the first time Friday.
“It was really fun to get out for a practice with the team,” said the goaltender, who joined the Sabres out of college late last month. “Adjusting to the quickness of the shots took a little bit of time, but I feel like I’m catching on now. I felt better as practice went on.
“I’m just grateful to be here. I’ve learned a lot even just from watching, being around the guys.”
Kasdorf says he feels well enough to play if needed.
“I have to earn that in practice,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Cody Franson (concussion) watched practice from the bench in street clothes. Bylsma said it’s unlikely the defenseman will return this season.
Three of the Sabres’ four lines have been a nonstop mix of players for the past month. Center Johan Larsson, right wing Brian Gionta and left wing Marcus Foligno have been the one constant.
Bylsma can envision that remaining the case heading into next year. Larsson and Foligno will be restricted free agents this summer.
“It would be real easy to say on July 15 that line of 82-22-12 is going to be able to do this, play here and have that role for your team,” the coach said.