BUFFALO – With zero stars, minute-munchers or big scorers on their blue line right now, the Sabres plan to utilize a defense by committee early this season.
So expect to see ice time spread out evenly. Trying to distinguish between the first and third pairs might be tough.
“We’re going to rely on all six guys,” defenseman Josh Gorges said Thursday prior to the Sabres’ 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. “Some nights you’re going to play more depending on the situation in the game. We’re going to need everyone to chip in and play a regular shift, play 18 to 21 minutes.”
The Sabres fielded a solid but unspectacular defense lineup for the season opener inside the First Niagara Center. Trades and an injury – Zach Bogosian suffered a lower-body injury early in training camp – have whittled away some depth and talent.
Gorges, who played his first game since Feb. 10, mostly skated beside Mark Pysyk. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma also paired Carlo Colaiacovo with Rasmus Ristolainen and Mike Weber beside Cody Franson.
“I don’t think we have a shutdown pair,” Bylsma said.
That’s why the committee approach is so important, Colaiacovo said.
“I think that’s the mentality we ought to go by,” he said. “It’s like the saying in football, running back by committee. Well, we’re going D by committee. When you say that, you basically put the trust in anybody that’s out there to get the job done. We feel like we have that.”
The Sabres have a well-10th rounded youngster in the smooth Pysyk, who spent almost a year and a half in the AHL. Pysyk, 23, established himself as one of the Sabres’ top defensemen early in 2013-14. But they wanted him to perfect his game, so they left him with the Rochester Americans.
The opener was only Pysyk’s 10th NHL appearance since January 2014.
“I like his compete, I like his simplicity to his game,” Gorges said. “He’s a guy that when he gets the puck, I don’t have to worry about him trying to spin-o-rama, beat a guy one-on-one.”
What did Pysyk, the Sabres’ 2010 first-round pick, learn by playing about 80 extra AHL games?
“I think you’re playing with confidence,” he said. “I think one of the biggest things, if you’re playing with confidence, you’re going to be playing well. It’s easier said than done.”
Bylsma believes Pysyk looks more experienced than a youngster with only 71 NHL games under his belt.
As a Swedish import, Sabres newcomer Robin Lehner isn’t a big football fan. But after arriving here in August, the goalie started following the Buffalo Bills a little bit.
“A lot of people talk about their defense and how good their defense and stuff are, but people start questioning the quarterback a little bit,” Lehner said. “I feel like I’m a little bit in the same position.”
The Sabres dramatically overhauled their roster during the summer, adding first- and second-line scorers, notable forward depth and veteran defensemen.
Lehner, an unproven starter, knows he’s the biggest question mark. He struggled most of the preseason, his first action since he suffered a concussion in February.
“A lot of good additions here, our offense looks pretty good, a good addition in Franson, and the question mark is me,” he said Thursday morning. “So I’ve got a lot to live up to and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Bylsma, who probably wants Lehner to play 55-60 times, doesn’t agree.
“I don’t think he’s the question mark,” he said. “We all are. People are asking those questions just not about our goaltender but about all of us. He’s a question mark but I don’t think he’s the only question mark.”
Lehner, who allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, left the game with 12:30 left in the second period after suffering a lower-body injury. He left the rink with a walking boot on his right leg and is more than day-to-day, Bylsma said.
If it was crunch time or the playoffs, not the opener, Sabres captain Brian Gionta probably would’ve played Thursday.
“He could probably gut it out,” Bylsma said about the winger’s lower-body injury. “We just don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we go from day-to-day to week-to-week.”
With Gionta out, right wing Sam Reinhart, 19, started the game beside rookie center Jack Eichel.
The Sabres also scratched defensemen Matt Donovan and Jake McCabe.
Gorges, winger Tyler Ennis and center Ryan O’Reilly all wore an ‘A’ with Gionta out. Bylsma, however, hasn’t officially named any alternate captains.