LAS VEGAS -- Defenseman Colin Miller was down the hall from where he spent the last two seasons and the memories flooded back to him as the Buffalo Sabres practiced Thursday in T-Mobile Arena.
Miller was an expansion-year stalwart for the Vegas Golden Knights and even scored their first goal in their Game 1 win over Washington in the Stanley Cup final. It was a season that started with the horror of the mass shooting on the Strip that claimed 58 lives but then saw a new hockey team galvanize a city on a run that was one of the most remarkable in the history of the four major pro sports leagues.
"It was a special year with so many things going on, with the expansion draft, the shooting, new team, new coach, so many different things," Miller said. "It was fun to be a part of the team. The city rallied together after that terrible night. We came up short but it was a lot of fun."
Miller chuckled when asked his memories of the Cup final opener, a 6-4 Vegas victory made memorable when legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer hit the ice to announce the starting lineups.
"The fans saw a lot more than we did," Miller said. "We saw him come out and do the intro. It's Vegas. It's a show and they try to put on the best of the best. It seems to have taken off here. It obviously helps when the team does well and they've been very good this year and the other two years."
Miller had 10 goals and 41 points for Vegas in the expansion season, then added three goals and seven points in the playoffs. He has just one goal, an overtime winner at Edmonton, and 10 assists this year for the Sabres, who meet the Golden Knights here Friday night.
Miller, acquired in a July trade, has been getting much more consistent ice time of late as Rasmus Dahlin's partner with the Sabres regularly going with only six defenseman. He played 19:27 in Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Colorado but was frustrated by his decision on the winning goal as he left the front of the net and J.T. Compher was alone to pounce on the puck and snap a tie with 8:06 to play.
"Obviously not a great play by me there," Miller said. "I've got to take away the higher priority, the more dangerous guy. We had our chances down the stretch to get it back, get another one.
"If you look at our game as a whole defensively, it was pretty good. You're going to give up chances. it was high energy. These are all playoff games for us right now."
— Buffalo Hockey moments (@SabresPlays) February 27, 2020
Kyle Okposo sat out practice due to a maintenance day but coach Ralph Krueger said he should be fine for Friday's game.
"It's that time of year where you're always going to err to resting somebody who's got a bump or bruise," Krueger said. "It's nothing he has trouble with during the games."
Newly-acquired Dominik Kahun practiced fully Thursday and seems in line to make his Buffalo debut Friday night. He was at left wing on a line with Marcus Johanssson and Jimmy Vesey.
"Dominik just looks really comfortable," Krueger said. "It's excellent he had that friendship with Henrik Jokiharju last year (in Chicago). You can see they're hanging out and he's just part of the living room already. Good kid, very coachable, very open-minded. It was good to see the skill set I already know on the ice. It's certainly another tool for us."
Lawrence Pilut was called up from Rochester but was not at practice. John Gilmour was sent down. Krueger said the Sabres want to keep both players in games, but said Pilut could be a candidate for the lineup at any time.
The Golden Knights are 11-3-2 under new coach Pete DeBoer, who took over last month after Gerard Gallant was fired following Vegas' 4-2 loss in Buffalo. Nevertheless, Krueger said Vegas looks like a similar team.
"We're actually quite surprised. Not a huge shift in the way they play," Krueger said. "I think he's a smart coach who understands what the skill set is here and we don't see a huge structural difference. We see some nuances within it but as a one-off from the outside, it's a pretty similar structure and a disclipined group of players who understand the game away from the puck really well."
Marc-Andre Fleury got his fifth shutout of the season in Wednesday's 3-0 win over Edmonton so it remains to be seen if he'll meet the Sabres Friday or if former Buffalo netminder Robin Lehner, acquired at the deadline from Chicago, will get his first start for Vegas.
Lehner told Vegas reporters Thursday how thrilled he was to see the emergence of Sabres captain Jack Eichel into an elite player.
"It's impressive. Since day one Eichel came in, I've seen his potential and he's really taken a step to grow into one of the best players in the league," Lehner said. "When he's on, I think he's up there with anyone, with (Connor) McDavid, (David) Pastrnak, all those guys. Whoever you want to call out. So that's good on him. He's a tremendous player and he's improved a lot, and it's fun to see."
Lehner went 7-1-1 for the Blackhawks in December but is just 4-4-1, 3.58/.897 since Jan. 1. The Hawks traded him after there was no real discussion on a longterm contract.
"We walked up one point behind a playoff spot. Then all of a sudden I found myself on the bench for no reason," Lehner said. "That was tough. Plus, negotiations had totally died out. ... I thought there was a future there, and I did everything to get a future there, and I still couldn’t get a future there. In the end, the last couple weeks were tough mentally to kind of find a motivation needed.”
Vegas announced a four-year, $5.6-million extension Thursday for fourth-liner William Carrier, the played the Golden Knights took from the Sabres in the expansion draft. Carrier has seven goals and a career-high 18 points this season.