Jake McCabe (29) and Mark Pysyk (3) are good friends. ©2015, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk forming strong defense pair for Sabres

BUFFALO – Their competitions are a bit one-sided. Any game Sabres defense partners Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk play against each other, Pysyk inevitably loses.

“Yeah, I always beat him,” McCabe said proudly Thursday. “Any game.”

There’s the Rory McIlroy golf video game for Xbox.

“He’s unbelievable at it,” Pysyk said. “He must not have any friends in the summer.”

Then there was the little one-timer contest they had following practice Thursday.

“That’s why he’s got to carry the bag back,” McCabe said.

That’s right, as the loser, Pysyk grabbed McCabe’s equipment as he departed HarborCenter and lugged it across the street to the First Niagara Center, where the Sabres host the NHL’s best team, the 7-0 Montreal Canadiens, tonight.

McCabe, 22, and Pysyk, 23, share a special chemistry off and on the ice.

“We’re really good buddies,” McCabe said.

Coach Dan Bylsma put the youngsters together when the Sabres recalled McCabe 11 days ago, and the duo has been showcasing their strong skating ability as the club’s third defense pair ever since.

“That’s really what I like about them, their skating ability,” Bylsma said. “They’re able to defend with that ability, and they’re also able to step out of (the) D-zone with that skating ability, and I think they’ve showed it every night. That’s a big part of how we want to play.”

McCabe and Pysyk played together with the Rochester Americans briefly last season, when their final game as a pair quickly turned into a disaster.

“I don’t think we made a good play until about 10 minutes left in the third period,” McCabe said. “We were kind of getting beat pretty bad, we kind of looked at each other and laughed it off.”

Still, Bylsma put them together in training camp, and McCabe, thanks to an injury to defenseman Zach Bogosian and some impressive play, started the season as the seventh defender before a one-game AHL stint.

With veteran Carlo Colaiacovo struggling a bit, McCabe, a 2012 second-round pick, basically forced the Sabres to play him. Tonight will be the Wisconsin native’s 14th NHL game.

McCabe scored his first NHL goal last Thursday in the Sabres’ 3-2 loss in Florida and skated a career-high 17 minutes, 27 seconds Wednesday in a 2-1 shootout win against Toronto.

“I finally feel like I’ve shown that I can play at this level,” McCabe said. “When I come up, it’s a little different when you get a call-up (without an injury), you get a little bit more confidence off the bat. The coaching staff does have trust in you. You’re not just filling someone’s position when you’re called up.”

Having Pysyk on the ice with him can be helpful.

“It’s easy to talk situations out and what happened that last play,” McCabe said. “We’re not going to scream at each other, get (ticked) off at each other. It’s just a good relationship we have and good chemistry we’re growing.”

Pysyk added: “I think we both do pretty similar things, we jump up in the rush, but first and foremost we need to be solid defensively and earn the trust of the coaches.”

Pysyk’s ability to make little plays that might go unnoticed helps their chemistry, McCabe said.

“When you really get down to ice level and the speed the game’s played, he makes those easy quick plays and is a great skater, so if one of us gets caught, usually one of us can bail (the other) out,” he said. “He’s just super steady.”

To McCabe, Pysyk plays more like a poised veteran than a kid with only 76 games of big league experience.

“He’s very steady and that helps me,” he said. “He’s always in the right spot. I always know I have an out, whether it be behind me, he’s always supporting me in some way. So I think they see that we’re a steady pair.”

Update: The Sabres recalled goalie Linus Ullmark, 22, from Rochester this morning and sent Nathan Lieuwen to the Amerks, presumably so he can play for the first time in two weeks. This is Ullmark’s first NHL recall. The Swede, who underwent offseason surgery on both hips, is 1-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage with the Amerks.

Notes: With three games in four nights and some players piling up big minutes, Bylsma held about six players out of practice Thursday, including rookie center Jack Eichel, who played 19 minutes, 42 seconds in his sixth NHL game Wednesday. … Canadiens rookie goalie Mike Condon, not reigning Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price, is expected to start in goal. … Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti cleared waivers Thursday and was assigned to Rochester.

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