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Sabres prep for challenge of a busy November

ST. PAUL, Minn -- The Buffalo Sabres did something here Monday that won't be repeated much for most of November: They practiced. In stages this season, teams around the NHL are not going to get a lot of time to retool and the Sabres are entering one such period now.

Starting with Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Wild in Xcel Energy Center, Buffalo has seven games in the first 12 days of November and 14 games overall this month. From now to Thanksgiving, there is just one time when the Sabres have more than two days in a row off.

"It's a lot of hockey, that's for sure," defenseman Josh Gorges said after the hour-long workout. "We all knew what November was going to be like. We've looked at it but you don't want to look too far down the road that you have this many games in this many nights. It's just what's in front of us and make sure you do what you need to do to get ready for that game, whether it's rest, more work, whatever."

The Sabres finished October with two straight wins to get their record to 3-3-2. Avenging last Thursday's 4-0 home whitewash by the Wild is certainly high on their agenda to start the new month.

"It's game after game after game and it's started now for us," said coach Dan Bylsma. "It's a great time for us to make some hay. Four days ago, we were not feeling good about where we were at. Now we've won to start this run of a lot of games ... we're going to have a chance to keep playing and win more hockey games and that's what we need to do."

The NHL schedule is more compact than normal this year because it started a week later due to the World Cup of Hockey and because teams have a five-day bye period with no practices or games. The Sabres get theirs in late February. The slate wraps up April 9, still around the normal finishing date.

So a team playing well when its rough stretches come up can pile up some quick points. Conversely, a team enduring a crisis of confidence might fritter away lots of chances to creep up the standings.

October was a mixed bag for the Sabres, as they scored just one goal in dropping their first two home games and blew third-period leads in losses at Calgary and Philadelphia. Buffalo finished the month 21st in the league in offense and 12th in defense, scoring and allowing 2.5 goals per game.

Kyle Okposo and a rejuvenated Matt Moulson lead the team with four goals apiece, and Okposo has scored three in the last two games.

"You want to produce and I'm starting to do that," Okposo said. "I try to do the other things affecting the game in a positive way but it's always nice to get on the scoresheet and doing it while you put some wins together."

Where the club has thrived has been on special teams. The Sabres are tied for sixth in the league on the power play at 25 percent and are seventh on the penalty kill at 86.7 percent. The Sabres have killed off 26 of 30 man-advantage situations, with three of the fourth goals against them came in last Tuesday's collapse in Philadelphia.

"Special teams is a huge factor, a key to every game," said Bylsma. "We've started to develop with our power play the mentality we're going to step over the boards and score a goal. With the PK, you'd like to scratch a third period from the record. Minus that, they have done a job in almost every game we've played. The last two games they had to come up with big kills in the third period to keep the game the way it was."

The Sabres jumped to leads on both the Panthers and Wild and didn't sit back trying to preserve them. Florida never threatened and Winnipeg would have been put away had the Sabres simply hit an empty net with one of several chances.

"In today's game, you can't sit back and try to play safe, patient, slower hockey," said Gorges. "You give the other team room, you give them momentum and life and they start feeling good about themselves.

"We needed to have those games and we have to have that same mindset coming into this game. A lot happens throughout an 82-game season. It's about finding that fine line of not getting too excited or too down when things happen. It's a challenge."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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