DENVER – Buffalo Sabres winger Kyle Okposo sent a clear message to General Manager Jason Botterill after Sunday's win over Winnipeg and it certainly seemed to resonate at Monday's NHL trade deadline.
Following the 2-1 win over the Jets that got the Sabres within six points of the final playoff slot in the Atlantic Division with 20 games to go, the veteran said he hoped the team's back-to-back wins over the weekend made the GM's job "a little bit more difficult" and that the players liked the makeup of their dressing room.
While Botterill traded Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues, he also surprised observers outside of Buffalo by adding Wayne Simmonds and Dominik Kahun to the mix up front.
"I'm excited," Okposo said Wednesday in Pepsi Center prior to the Sabres' road trip opener against the Colorado Avalanche. "Obviously any time you see guys go it's difficult, but he kept a lot of our group intact and we're looking forward to trying to win some games with the group we have.
"Adding a guy like 'Simmer' is awesome for our group and Dominik is a young player who has shown he can be a solid player in this league. We're excited to have both those guys."
Simmonds made his Sabres debut in the game. Kahun, who has been nursing a lower-body injury and missed his final two games in Pittsburgh, fully participated in the team's optional morning skate and said afterward he feels like he should be able to play Friday in Vegas.
Okposo said Sabres players generally left Botterill alone during the days leading up to the deadline. It was their play on the ice that spoke volumes.
"That's his job," Okposo said of the GM. "There wasn't a whole lot of communication. I know how hard he works and how badly he wants it. I'm sure that he was grinding."
Along with Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons, Okposo's line has been grinding since he returned six games ago from an upper-body injury. Okposo scored both of his team's goals Sunday and entered Wednesday on a four-game point streak. Girgensons entered Wednesday with three points in the last two games.
"I came back and we had talked as a line about how we've been playing pretty well but we need to step up and try to contribute offensively and we've been able to do that," Okposo said. "Now we have to keep going. The expectation is there but the way that we play isn't going to change. Whether we get a goal, two goals or no goals, we're going to play the same way."
The Larsson line has succeeded all season in wearing down opposing defenses on the forecheck and coach Ralph Krueger said he's thrilled to see them scoring some goals of their own.
"We feel that all three of them have been really showing a lot more confidence on the puck, all showing the skill that's within them," Krueger said. "Maybe they were stuck in a box in the past and they feel this responsibility now often playing top lines of the other team nailing those lines down into their D zone. It's a pretty good skill set to have.
"They extend those shifts and find the opportune moments to attack, which has been brilliant for us. It's an example for our younger players to see them grind out those long O-zone shifts."
Even with their strong February play, the Sabres still rate less than a 10% chance of making the playoffs. Of course, a couple of weeks ago, the math was less than 1%. And now Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin is out four weeks with a broken hand suffered Tuesday in Tampa, leaving the Leafs with virtually an entire defense corps from the AHL's Toronto Marlies as Muzzin joins Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci among the injured.
The Sabres have no choice but to keep winning and hope they continue to keep getting help.
"It would mean a lot," Okposo said of the longshot postseason bid. "I'm not going to get ahead of myself but to be in the position that we put ourselves in with the ups and downs is a big testament to our club and the direction that we're going. So we just want to keep winning games and make sure we're right there the last few weeks.
"We're not going to make up the ground we need to looking ahead and looking to see what other teams are doing. It's all about our game and how we play and that's going to bring us the most success."