The Buffalo Sabres’ experiment of separating All-Stars Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner lasted a little more than two periods.
Sabres coach Phil Housley returned Skinner to the top line early in the third period of Tuesday night’s 5-4 shootout victory against the Minnesota Wild at KeyBank Center, and that’s where the team’s leading goal-scorer remained during practice Wednesday afternoon.
“I just felt he wasn’t really involved in the game,” Housley said, “and I thought when he was placed back with Jack, he was back to his normal self.”
Skinner continued skating alongside Eichel and forward Jason Pominville as the Sabres prepare to host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night in the third game of a seven-game homestand.
Skinner, acquired in a trade from the ‘Canes last offseason, is enjoying a breakout season in Buffalo, with 47 points (31 goals, 16 assists) in 52 games. He had five shots on goal but didn't record a point in 18 minutes, 4 seconds of playing time against Minnesota.
Most of Skinner's production has come on a top line with Eichel and Sam Reinhart, which was disbanded on Monday as Housley attempted to shake his team out of its recent funk.
The need for secondary scoring has been a point of emphasis for the Sabres this season, but keeping Skinner and Eichel together seems like the most effective approach.
Pominville, like Skinner, also has had his greatest success when skating alongside Eichel this season.
“I think Pommer is always in the right spots,” Skinner said. “Obviously, he’s been around a long time, so he’s really smart. As a linemate, you know where he’s going to be at all times. He wins battles and you can sort of read off him, and obviously Jack sort of drives the line and I just kind of read off him."
#Sabres lines during practice:
Thompson is the extra skater, rotating in.
— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) February 6, 2019
Reinhart’s versatility ‘terrific’
Casey Mittelstadt continued to center the second line, alongside Conor Sheary and Reinhart, who had a goal, an assist and the game-winner in the shootout victory against the Wild.
Housley described that line as “tenacious” and said Reinhart, who began the game on the third line, has done a “terrific job” regardless of who he’s played with.
“Whenever he’s been asked to move to a different line, he’s really risen to the occasion,” Housley said. “Last night was a big example of it, scoring a goal for us.”
Housley said the team’s second period, when the Sabres were outscored 3-2, helped convince him to make line changes early in the third.
“I didn’t really like our second period,” Housley said. “We tried to roll with those lines (we started the game with) early in the third, but (I was) just trying to find a combination that was going to work for us. I thought Jack’s line was really good when Skinner was placed back on that line, to get him more involved. He hadn’t played a lot of minutes up to that time because they were all spread around, and putting Conor Sheary with Mittelstadt and Reinhart provided us with a spark, so that was just a decision within the game.”
Evan Rodrigues centered the third line at practice Wednesday, alongside C.J. Smith and Kyle Okposo.
Johan Larsson centered the fourth line, alongside Zemgus Girgensons and Vladimir Sobotka.
Tage Thompson was an extra skater.
The Sabres’ defensive pairings remained unchanged from Tuesday night’s game.
No changes to the #Sabres defensive pairings during practice:
— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) February 6, 2019
Ullmark OK; Larsson may return
Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark practiced on Wednesday morning after being hit in the head by Zach Parise on the final shot of the shootout Tuesday night.
Ullmark headed straight to the locker room after the game, rather than celebrating with his teammates.
Larsson, who has missed the last two games with an upper body injury, seems poised to return to the lineup against Carolina.
“We’ll see how he reacts to (Wednesday’s) practice and make that decision (Thursday),” Housley said. “But he looked really good in practice (Wednesday).”
'Hockey is for Everyone Night'
The Sabres will host "Hockey is for Everyone Night" during their game against the Hurricanes on Thursday at KeyBank Center, the team announced. February is the NHL’s annual "Hockey is for Everyone" month, which promotes the inclusion of players, coaches and fans of every race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and those with disabilities.
Activities throughout the night will include the "You Can Play Project," which advocates for the inclusion, acceptance and respect of LGBTQ athletes in sports. Players will use Pride Tape on their sticks during pregame warmups, and sticks will be auctioned off on Sabres.com/Auctions from 5 p.m. on Feb. 8 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 17. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Pride Center of Western New York and Gay and Lesbian Services of Western New York.
There will also be Sabres pride T-shirts available for purchase at the Sabres Store. Additionally, the Pride Center of WNY and Gay and Lesbian Youth Services and the Varsity Gay League will have informational tables on the 100 level.
A few thousand kids were on hand to watch Sabres practice Wednesday at KeyBank Center as part of the NHL’s Future Goals program. The endeavor aims to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills through the game of hockey.
Former Sabres forward Miroslav Satan will be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame Class of 2019, the IIHF announced.
The induction ceremony is scheduled to take place on May 26 in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, before the medal games of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
The two-time All-Star played eight of his 14 NHL seasons for the Sabres, from 1996 to 2004. He won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.