Blue and Gold scrimmage, part II tonight. Jeff Skinner w/Curtis Lazar
First, let's get this out of the way...
WAY TO GO BUFFALO BILLS!!!
(my did that feel good to write in January)
With the main event already done in Buffalo, a 27-24 Bills win over the Indianapolis Colts for their first playoff win since 1995, we can turn our attention to the ice at KeyBank Center for the second Blue and Gold scrimmage of this abbreviated training camp. Players will hit the ice at 7 pm for a contest that will be streamed at Sabres.com and on their social media platforms.
Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger will be in the stands once again and he'll get his first opportunity to see free agent signee Taylor Hall skate along side Buffalo captain Jack Eichel, who missed the first scrimmage with an injury. In addition to that, Victor Olofsson will see his first game-style action as well as fellow Swedish countrymen Linus Ullmark who will be in goal.
With less than a week to go before the Sabres host the Washington Capitals for a back-to-back at KeyBank to kick off the 2020-21 season, Krueger is working his way through the forwards to find four lines he can count on. "We believe it's going to be necessary for us early in the season to be able to play with four lines," the coach said after yesterday's practice, which saw some line-juggling from the previous session. "We're going to need to spread the ice-time out [and] we'd like to have every line to have a strength offensively and defensively."
Krueger got into offensive pairings during yesterday's Zoom call with the media pointing out how much he liked Eric Staal, who was acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Wild, with seventh-year pro, Sam Reinhart. We already know how much everyone in Sabreland is looking forward to seeing Hall/Eichel, and Krueger has been keeping a line together featuring free-agent signee center Cody Eakin and veteran winger Kyle Okposo. But what about the fourth pairing?
At Friday's practice the coach dropped Jeff Skinner down to a spot with center Curtis Lazar due to "a combination of decisions," according to Krueger while also mentioning that the two "had some success" last season. He stuck with that theme today as he talked about that forward pairing and talked about Lazar's progress later in the call.
"Lazar and Skinner had some interesting synergy last year together with [the since departed Wayne] Simmonds," said the coach today, "and we wanted to take another peak at that. They really feed off of each other, there's just a natural support.
"We are expecting another level of offense from Lazar," he continued, while also reminding us that the 25 yr. old was a top draft pick (17th-overall, 2013.) "He definitely had extreme offensive skills with Team Canada and in his whole development offensively," said Krueger. "Last year was a critical point where he was sent down (to the Rochester Americans) and sent down with a message that his pathway to the National Hockey League would be in a defensive role, in a penalty-kill role and a character role.
"He needed to readjust his thinking and wait for his opportunities offensively but not force them. He went down and worked on it and when he came back he completely and totally embraced what we needed in the minutes he was giving us. He's come back at another level of fitness (this year,) his foot-speed is looking good and we see him as somebody who's now, potentially, going to be able to develop his offensive side again with his defensive side as his foundation, whereas it was the other way around before."
Krueger did mention that things were still in flux a bit, save for the forward pairings he really likes already, and did point out that we shouldn't "overvalue" the moves he made for practice, and presumably tonight's Blue and Gold scrimmage.
According to @NHLdotcom's Heather Engel, Skinner and Lazar will have Riley Sheahan (who signed a one-year deal yesterday) on their right. The other lines for Team Blue:
Hall - Eichel - Tage Thompson
Brandon Biro - Artu Ruotsalainen - (rookie) Dylan Cozens
C.J. Smith - (Eichel) - (rookie) JackQuinn
Team Gold lines:
Olofsson - Staal - Reinhart
Tobias Rieder - Eakin - Okposo
(rookie) Rasmus Asplund - Casey Mittelstadt - Steven Fogarty/(rookie) Brett Murray