BUFFALO – In Eric Robinson’s first days here, the Sabres have started playing a more tenacious, direct style. It’s no coincidence.
High compete, Sabres coach Don Granato said, rubs off.
“We haven’t had enough of that, we’ve had it intermittent,” Granato said following Monday’s 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes, a game in which Robinson scored one goal and three points.
With Robinson, the Sabres have possessed it regularly. They’re 2-0-1 since they traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday in exchange for the speedy winger.
They had lost four straight games and five of their previous six prior to the deal, regularly looking timid while falling behind early and getting blown out.
On Wednesday, Robinson, 28, created captain Kyle Okposo’s early goal by driving to the net down the slot before stuffing in a rebound in the second period to put the Sabres up 2-1. He later assisted on center Peyton Krebs’ goal in the third period and was in front of the net when he scored.
“We keep it simple, that’s the main thing,” said Krebs, who has pivoted Robinson, the left winger, and Okposo the last three games. “It’s a good balance, I think. Eric brings that speed and be that fast in on the forecheck, I can find those pucks and Okie can put it in. We’ve got a good balance of everything on our line and it allows us to be in the right spots at the right time. I just have a lot of fun playing with them.”
Okposo, who had three points, said Robinson “plays the right way every shift.”
“That’s something that you can’t have enough guys like that,” he said. “When that’s being rewarded with offense, with more ice time, with points that’s being rewarded by the coaches, it’s easy for the guys to play like that.
“He’s just a really good person first and foremost, too. He’s fit in great with our group and had a really positive impact on the team. He’s going to keep going, and you know what you are getting every night.”
So far, Robinson has stood out every night with the Sabres. He had a goal called back for goalie interference in Thursday’s 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins – it appeared it should’ve counted – and was ejected for boarding in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
He said the last week has “been a whirlwind but really exciting.”
“Getting to play with Okie and Krebsy’s made it easy,” Robinson said. “They’ve been playing hard and straightaway and talking to me all night, so that’s made the transition for me a lot easier.”
The Sabres’ transition to playing a harder style hasn’t been easy. But Okposo said they’re finally “building a game now.”
“Now we have a template of how we need to play, how we need to work,” he said. “And now we can get better from there. And I think that’s the mantra, is continue to get better every night and build off that. And it’s not hard to play like that. It’s just a commitment to it. And everybody was committed tonight, and the last few.”
That commitment has helped the Sabres stop chasing games. On Monday before the crowd of 14,083 fans in KeyBank Center, they led at home after the first period for the first time since Oct. 29.
“The difference is competing better … and it certainly was tonight, something that we’ve got to continue to do and play with that urgency,” Granato said of the Sabres’ stronger starts. “We finally have the feel of the right urgency and the right way to play. Doesn’t mean we played the right way the whole game, because there were plenty of segments there that I’m not happy with that need to be cleaned up as well.”
Winger JJ Peterka and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (empty net) scored the Sabres’ other goals. Goalie Devon Levi, making his third straight start, made 21 saves.
Okposo has scored five goals in the last 10 games after going goalless in the first 19 contests.
“Just trying to shoot more,” he said. “I feel more confident in some of the plays that I’m making. And my timing I think is a little bit better, where I’m landing at the net a little bit better. As opposed to just sometimes you want it so bad, and you think work, work, work, and your brain doesn’t work as well as your offensive instincts. And I’m just trying to use those a little bit more, and trying to use my hockey sense a little bit, coupled with my work, and it seems to have helped.”