Victor Olofsson scored two goals Friday. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres change forwards to keep them fresh; Will Devon Levi play this season?

BUFFALO – For four months, center Tyson Jost enjoyed regular duty. His arrival helped solidify the Sabres down the middle, giving them a two-way presence to pivot their third or fourth line.

But Jost sat out Friday’s 5-2 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers as a healthy scratch. So did winger JJ Peterka, a rookie who scored one goal and three points in the previous two games.

In their places, Sabres coach Don Granato inserted wingers Victor Olofsson and Vinnie Hinostroza.

“Those guys absolutely had energy tonight the other guys didn’t have,” Granato told reporters in Philadelphia. “That was clear and evident.”

As the Sabres, losers eight of their last 10 games, fade from the playoff race, they’re dealing with a good problem that illustrates their growth. They have depth. Right now, they have 14 healthy forwards, meaning they’re scratching two each game.

Olofsson, who scored twice against the Flyers, had sat out two straight games. He had never been a healthy scratch in his four-year NHL career prior to Monday’s 4-3 road win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hinostroza, meanwhile, had been scratched four consecutive contests.

“Behind the scenes the decision is we can’t keep guys out too long at this time that are capable guys,” Granato said. “And you want to keep guys fresh. Obviously, they came in and they were fresh. They had energy all the way through.”

So the Sabres could have a different look up front for this afternoon’s game against the heavyweight Boston Bruins at KeyBank Center.

Olofsson, however, will likely remain in the lineup. The Swede busted out of his slump Friday, scoring two late power-play goals, his 25th and 26th tallies this season. He had scored just once over his previous 17 outings.

“I just want to prove I should be in the lineup,” Olofsson told reporters of his mindset.

Inserting two wingers and taking out Jost, a center, forced Granato to rearrange his lineup a bit. Casey Mittelstadt moved from the wing to center, his natural position. Meanwhile, Olofsson, who usually plays right wing, shifted to the left side.

Following a game off Friday, Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, 24, will likely return to the net against the Bruins, making his 30th appearance this season.

The rookie has started regularly for nearly four months, and he figures to receive the bulk of the action over the final 14 games. Meanwhile, veteran Craig Anderson, 41, might keep playing his usual one game a week.

But what about goalie prospect Devon Levi?

Levi, who on Friday signed his entry-level contract, will be joining the Sabres when his immigration paperwork is finalized.

Prior to Friday’s game, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Levi, 21, will be staying with the Sabres. They want the youngster to integrate and become comfortable around his new teammates after leaving Northeastern following his junior season.

Adams said the Sabres are open to Levi playing a game before the season end. For now, however, it seems like he’ll just be practicing and learning the rigors of life in the NHL.

Clearly, the Sabres don’t want to put too much pressure on Levi, who’s a week removed from the end of his decorated college career.

The Sabres also have goalie Eric Comrie, who’s recovering from a lower-body injury.

Despite a season-long seven-game goal drought, Sabres center Tage Thompson has kept creating some offense.

The American has recorded five assists and pumped 23 shots on goal during that span. In Wednesday’s 5-4 shootout road loss to the Washington Capitals, he had seven shots.

Still, Thompson has struggled a bit. Friday’s game was one of his weakest all year. He mustered two shots on goal while registering a minus-3, tying his worst rating this season.

Thompson, who has scored a career-high 42 goals, needs three points to become the first Sabres player to hit the 90-point mark since Daniel Briere had 95 in 2006-07.

The Sabres had Saturday off.

3 thoughts on “Sabres change forwards to keep them fresh; Will Devon Levi play this season?”

  1. Tinkering with the lineup during a wildcard race is amateurish coaching. The best players play, the rest sit. This team has regressed defensively all season and have given up more goals per game than last season. Bottom 5 penalty kill and they don’t have the coaching to fix it. Hopefully they can score 6 goals a game next year to make it to the playoffs!

  2. Granato has mostly pushed the right buttons with this team, and he made lineup changes in the midst of a stretch of mostly poor performances and/or results. I understand the logic but the bigger issue is that Jost and Peterka were playing well and had scored the game before. As a first-time NHL head coach, Granato has some learning and development to go through as well.

    1. I’ve been saying that all year that coach Granato has as big a learning curve as his young team , ALL have to learn together

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