Dylan Cozens usually plays center. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres change lines in midst of slow start, insist they won’t panic

BUFFALO – For the time being, Dylan Cozens might be a winger again, having joined Sabres center Tage Thompson and Jordan Greenway on a line during Friday’s practice.

Of course, in the near future, Cozens will likely shift back to center, his natural position. The Yukon native, fresh off a 31-goal breakout season, is a budding star. Thompson and Cozens give the Sabres one of the NHL’s best one-two punches down the middle.

But having lost three of their first four games, the Sabres must try different things. So coach Don Granato changed his four forward lines for Friday’s session in LECOM Harborcenter.

Cozens moved to right wing, a spot he occasionally occupied as a rookie in 2020-21.

“I’m comfortable playing center and wing, so I’m not too worried about it,” Cozens said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s game against the New York Islanders at KeyBank Center. “I’m excited to go back there.”

Wingers Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch, Thompson’s regular linemates, skated with Casey Mittelstadt.

Tyson Jost pivoted JJ Peterka and Victor Olofsson, Cozens’ wingers for the first three games. Granato also reunited the trio of center Peyton Krebs and wingers Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo.

The fresh trios could be utilized tonight. While the changes might raise some eyebrows – for example, the Thompson line ranked among the NHL’s elite last season – the Sabres have been insisting they won’t panic.

“We’re four games in,” Thompson said following Thursday’s 4-3 home loss to the Calgary Flames. “There’s no need to panic. Obviously, you got to be better. There’s no excuses to give away games, but it’s a long season, we’ll be fine.”

The Sabres looked awful defensively against the Flames, making some ill-advised decisions and breaking down throughout the night. Still, despite their problems, they erased three one-goal deficits before falling by one goal.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t deserve to win that game and we found a way to stick with it,” Cozens said. “It was a one-goal game and we played not even close to how good we know we can. So that’s the way we can look at it. …

“We just got to trust the process and know it’s a long season and everyone loses lots of games. … Maybe we’re going to get hot later on, and that’s when it matters more, I think. So we’re not worried with where we’re at.”

Last Saturday, the Sabres fell 3-2 in New York, a game in which they arguably outplayed the Islanders and lost on a disputed goal. On Oct. 12, opening night, the Sabres lost 5-1 but got back in the game for a bit late before the New York Rangers pulled away.

So despite their record – make no mistake, the Sabres deserve to have one win, Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime triumph against the Tampa Bay Lightning – they could’ve eked out another victory or a stolen a point or two for reaching overtime.

“We haven’t even come close to how good we can play, and we’ve been in pretty much every game,” Cozens said. “So that’s a positive way to look at things and know that once we get to our game and play the way we know we can play that we’re going to be a really good team in this league.”

He added: “We know we haven’t hit our stride yet. But at the end of the day, there’s 78 more games and the best teams in the league lose lots of games, so it’s a long season.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *