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Sabres Notebook: Power play gets talk, tweaks; Okposo returns to top line; NBCSN games

After the Sabres completed practice, Phil Housley and associate coach Davis Payne gathered the first power-play unit at the whiteboard. They had a lot to talk about.

The Sabres boasted the top power play in the NHL last season, but they're scuffling along at No. 22 this year. Housley switched the units Monday, and he wants more when Detroit visits Tuesday night.

"Better, quick puck movement," Housley said in KeyBank Center. "We're holding onto it, which is giving other teams on the penalty kill an opportunity to get in position. We have to move the puck quicker whether it's low to high or it's high to low. It's got to be done quicker.

"We have to have more urgency in that area because we hold onto it, they get a stick on it, now they get two guys, now we're in a battle. We shouldn't be in that position if we just move it quickly. That’s what we were focusing on."

Buffalo is 5 for 32 on the power play, including a 3-for-5 performance in Vegas. The unit has been blanked in five of the last six games to fall to 15.6 percent. It finished at 24.5 percent last season.

Remarkably, the Sabres are getting outscored on the power play. They have given up six short-handed tallies.

The new units feature two defensemen, a switch from the four-forward, one-defenseman look. Ryan O'Reilly, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart skated up front for the first unit, with Victor Antipin and Rasmus Ristolainen at the blue line. The second unit featured Evander Kane, Jason Pominville and Kyle Okposo, with Marco Scandella and Matt Tennyson up top.

Antipin has played in two straight games after being scratched for four.

"He's made the best of his opportunity since he's got back in the lineup," Housley said. "He's moving his feet, skating, defending well – all the things that we're looking for from him.

"He's just sort of moving up and earned a spot to try on the power play."

* * *

It was a quick journey from the doghouse to the penthouse for Kyle Okposo.

The right winger practiced on the top line with Eichel and Kane. Okposo was benched for much of the Sabres' loss Friday, but an improved effort during a win Saturday elevated his status.

"I thought Kyle was fantastic, moving his feet, winning a lot of puck battles," Housley said. "He had a chance to win the game there at the end. Just finding a way to get involved. It might not have been on the score sheet, but certainly his game went to another level."

Okposo skated 16:31 during the 5-4 victory over Boston, attempting three shots (including one that rang the iron in the final minute) and delivering three hits.

"I've played better," Okposo said.

Although he was plus-1 in the game, he didn't have a point. Okposo has no goals, one assist and a minus-6 rating in seven games.

"Still looking for more, still looking for production," Okposo said. "That's something that I've prided myself on the last number of years, and it's not there right now. I thought the work was better definitely and created some opportunities … but I've got to produce."

* * *

The Sabres think highly of Cliff Pu, so they've wasted little time signing him to a three-year, entry-level contract. The forward will make $742,500 in the first two seasons and $792,500 in the third, according to a source.

Pu is playing his fourth year of junior hockey and will turn pro next season. His contract won't start until then.

Pu impressed new Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill and Housley with a solid Prospects Challenge. They rewarded Pu with two preseason games before sending him back to London of the Ontario Hockey League.

Selected in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft, Pu blossomed last season. He recorded 35 goals and 86 points in 63 regular-season games, then added seven points in 14 playoff appearances.

Pu has started slowly this season with one goal, six points and a minus-12 rating in the Knights' opening 11 games.

* * *

The Sabres practiced without the injured group of forwards Zemgus Girgensons (lower body), Evan Rodrigues (hand) and center Jacob Josefson (foot), and defensemen Zach Bogosian (lower body), Nathan Beaulieu (upper body), Josh Gorges (lower body) and Justin Falk (undisclosed).

Housley said Girgensons, Rodrigues and Falk skated before practice.

"That's a good sign," Housley said. "It's just intriguing to see them skating. That's the first step of getting back."

* * *

The Sabres' next two games will be televised by NBCSN. The home game against Detroit will start at 7:30 p.m. with Kenny Albert providing the play-by-play and Brian Boucher commentating from between the benches.

The Sabres visit Columbus at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Mike "Doc" Emrick will do play-by-play, Mike Milbury will be the analyst and Pierre McGuire will be between the benches. The Buffalo announcers can be heard on WGR-AM 550.

Scandella determined to help make Sabres a consistent winner

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