Ralph Krueger didn't make any significant strategic adjustments with the Buffalo Sabres missing Victor Olofsson and Jeff Skinner. In Krueger's opinion, any player on the roster can thrive by adhering to the principles he and his coaching staff instilled in training camp.
Sam Reinhart, Conor Sheary and Henri Jokiharju made Krueger's vision a reality Saturday, as each scored a goal to support Linus Ullmark in a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers inside KeyBank Center.
The Sabres (19-17-7) won consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 10-12 and hold three straight victories over the Panthers (21-15-5). Ullmark made 32 saves to earn his 13th win of the season and had a shutout until Mike Matheson scored with 7:20 remaining in regulation.
"Conor really seems to be finding a bit of a rhythm, and I don’t think we can forget how Sam Reinhart has been performing of late and how he’s consistently taking responsibility in getting to the net and doing a lot of good things to create, too," Krueger said. "To create layers of offense is what a good team does when top scorers drop out, and I thought there was opportunity for more."
Reinhart scored a power-play goal in Olofsson's absence, and Sheary added his seventh goal of the season while forming a potent forward line with Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey. Jokiharju, a 20-year-old defenseman, pinched in the offensive zone and broke the scoreless tie to capitalize on a sequence in which the Panthers were focused on stopping Jack Eichel.
The Sabres have received at least one goal from seven different players over their last four games. Olofsson, who leads all rookies with 35 points this season, is out five to six weeks with a lower-body injury suffered last Thursday against Edmonton, while Skinner is expected to miss up to a month with an upper-body injury.
Florida starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was replaced by Chris Driedger after allowing three goals on seven shots. Evgenii Dadonov added a third-period goal to cut the deficit to one with 1:10 remaining in regulation.
"Guys stepped up," Johansson said of playing without Olofsson for the first time this season. "We did what we had to do. It’s going to be tough without him. He’s been one of our best players all year, but you have to fight through that and hopefully we’ll come out stronger. It’s a good start to get two points."
Audition: Sabres rookie Rasmus Asplund replaced Olofsson on the top line and played a season-high 15:44. Asplund, 22, did not register a shot on goal, but he had a scoring opportunity early in the first period.
Fine first: The Sabres exited the first period with a 1-0 lead, despite being outshot, 11-5, and having to kill two penalties. Ullmark made a few impressive saves, arguably none better than his stop on Jonathan Huberdeau during a Florida power play. The Panthers had 14 more shot attempts in the first period.
The Sabres, meanwhile, killed each of their three penalties after allowing two power-play goals in two of the previous three games.
"I think guys have been filling roles very nicely," Reinhart said. "Our 5 on 5 game we’ve been very comfortable with, so it’s just been a matter of special teams, as you guys know. It’s been frustrating, but the kill steps up big early and then it’s nice to get a power-play goal."
Opening salvo: Buffalo took a 1-0 lead at 10:49 into the game when Reinhart passed to Jokiharju, who pinched deep into the offensive zone and scored from the right-wing circle for his fourth goal of the season.
Entering Saturday, the Sabres had a negative-15 goal differential in the first period and were 6-2-1 when leading after a game's first 20 minutes.
Heating up: Sheary scored for the second time in three games when he one-timed a 2-on-1 pass from Johansson for a 2-0 lead at 1:35 into the second period. Johansson extended his point streak to four games, his longest since he had points in four straight from Jan. 19 to Feb. 2, 2019.
Slump ends: The Sabres snapped an 0-for-16 power-play slump at 5:42 into the second period, when Reinhart one-timed a pass from Rasmus Dahlin for a 3-0 lead. The goal was Reinhart's 14th of the season and his second in as many games.
Man down: Eichel missed the final eight minutes of the second period after being high-sticked during a power play, but the returned for the third period.
Additionally, Kyle Okposo missed time after taking a stick to the face and being helped off the ice at 10:05 into the second period, though the infraction resulted in a four-minute penalty for Panthers defenseman Josh Brown.
Disaster avoided: With Eichel being tended to by trainers, Okposo replaced the captain on the Sabres' power play, and a Buffalo turnover resulted in a breakaway for Frank Vatrano, though Ullmark made the save. The Sabres improved to 15-1 when leading after two periods.
Slow third: The Sabres had only one shot on goal through 10 minutes in the third period, however, they only allowed three during that span. Florida cut the deficit to two goals on Matheson's wrist shot from the left-wing circle with 7:20 remaining in regulation.
Dadonov then cut the deficit to one with 1:10 left in the third when he scored off a rebound in the crease.
'90s Day: As part of the Sabres' celebration on '90s Day, alumni were introduced prior to a tribute video being shown on the scoreboard. Former center Michael Peca received a roaring ovation when he took off his Sabres sweater to reveal a Tre'Davious White Bills jersey. However, perhaps the biggest round of applause occurred when former defenseman Dave Hannan held up Dale Hawerchuk's jersey.
Hawerchuk, a Hall of Fame center who played for the Sabres from 1990-95, was unable to attend as he battles stomach cancer.
Lineup: Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues was a healthy scratch for a third consecutive game, and forward Dalton Smith was also scratched after clearing waivers Friday.
World juniors: Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens and Canada will face Russia in the gold medal game of the IIHF World Junior Championship at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Eastern. Cozens had one shot on goal in Canada's 5-0 semifinal win over Finland on Saturday.
Goalie Erik Portillo, a third-round draft pick of the Sabres this past June, will represent Canada in the third-place game against Finland on Sunday. Portillo did not dress for Sweden's semifinal loss to Russia.
Next: The Sabres will hold their skills challenge at 11 a.m. Sunday, and the team is scheduled to be off Monday.