BUFFALO – A commitment to a 200-foot game, not his scoring prowess, helped winger Nick Baptiste earn another recall to the Sabres last week.
Baptiste, a third-year pro, has learned offense starts with strong defense. That was evident when Baptiste scored his fourth NHL goal in Thursday’s 4-0 win in Vancouver.
“It was a play where we made them turn the puck over,” Baptiste said this morning after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt against the New Jersey Devils. “I was able to use my speed, jump through a hole and create an opening.”
Center Evan Rodrigues grabbed a loose puck and quickly fed Benoit Pouliot, who hit Baptiste as he zoomed down the middle.
“Scoring for me is obviously something I want to do, but it’s not my focal point right now, it’s doing all the little things right, things that allow me to stay in the lineup,” Baptiste said.
The rare goal from the fourth line put the Sabres up 2-0 12:49 into the second period, essentially sealing their third straight victory.
A lot of things have contributed to the Sabres’ hot streak. The ability to roll four lines is at the top of the list.
“They’ve provided some speed, some attack in the offensive zone,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said of the fourth line. “I think they’re coming back hard when we don’t have the puck through the neutral zone and into our defensive zone. I just like the way they’ve been able to attack the game.”
This is rare territory for the Sabres. If you’re counting, it has been 1,142 days (Dec. 15, 2014) since their last four-game winning streak.
The Sabres, who have only 14 wins, haven’t possessed this much confidence all season.
“You can see when you stick to a game plan and you’re paying attention to the detail of defense … but I think it’s just a confidence each game, knowing that if we play a certain style of game, we’re going to be successful,” Housley said.
The Sabres will use the same lineup as Thursday, meaning goalie Robin Lehner, fresh off consecutive shutouts, will start inside KeyBank Center. Defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, who’s still recovering from an upper-body injury, and Josh Gorges (healthy) will be scratched. So will winger Jordan Nolan.
Center Jacob Josefson will also be scratched again. Housley said the Swede has recovered from his lower-body injury but must wait his turn.
Meanwhile, the Devils, one of the NHL’s early-season surprises, have lost four straight games.