Back together, Sabres' top line looks to find previous offensive form


Staff member

Back together as the Buffalo Sabres’ top forward line for the first time since Jan. 23, it was a mostly nondescript outing for center Tage Thompson, left winger Jeff Skinner and right winger Alex Tuch in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild.

But they hope it was a start, a first spin around the rink to reacclimate to each other and possibly find the form that made them so effective last season.

“It was nice to get back playing together, but at the same time, you look up and down our roster, we have guys that are interchangeable and can play together,” Thompson told The Buffalo News. “That being said, for sure, there is a natural connection between us three.”

Collectively, the trio combined for 10 shots on goal (Thompson five, Tuch three and Skinner two), a plus-3 rating (Thompson plus-1 and Tuch plus-2) and three assists (Thompson two and Tuch one).

According to the analytics website Natural Stat Trick, Skinner-Thompson-Tuch saw 10:51 of 5-on-5 play, and the numbers were underwhelming – four shots for/nine against, two scoring chances/four against and no goals scored/allowed.

“There were definitely some shifts where we had some really nice plays and were really good,” Tuch said.
Sabres head coach Don Granato reunited the Skinner-Thompson-Tuch line for 3:27 of 5-on-5 in Thursday’s loss to Florida, and kept them together during Friday’s practice.

The numbers suggest why Granato was looking for a spark. In the six games entering Saturday, only Tuch was going any kind of well (3-2-5). Thompson had only one goal, and Skinner one assist since returning from injury.

“We obviously have good chemistry and had a pretty good season last year together,” Thompson said. “I think anytime we’re together, we can create.”

Was it kind of like riding a bike?

‘Yeah, exactly,” Thompson said. “In the first (period), maybe our timing was a little off. We got better as the game went on. I do think it’s one of those things that comes back pretty quickly. You don’t lose it (completely).”

Said Granato: “There really wasn’t a transition. Pretty seamless for those guys (because) they’ve played so much together.”

The Sabres canceled practice Sunday, so it seems Granato will keep the line together for Monday’s 12:30 p.m. home game against Anaheim. The Ducks allowed a season-high nine goals in Saturday’s 9-2 loss to Toronto, and are 28th out of 32 teams in goals allowed (3.52 per game).

“We have to keep going,” Tuch said. “It was a little bit since we played together consistently, so we just have to roll into (Monday’s game) and build. We weren’t perfect (Saturday), far from it.”

Dahlin’s season high

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has logged his two highest ice-time totals of the season in the last two games – 29:29 against Florida on Thursday and 30:47 against Minnesota on Saturday. He entered the Wild game averaging 25:13.

Granato’s message to Dahlin, who exceeded 30 minutes of ice time for only the fourth time in his 408-game career: Get used to it.

“He’s going to have to probably learn how to deal with 30 minutes a night with the injuries we have,” Granato said.

Out for the season is Mattias Samuelsson (average of 20:30), and currently sidelined is Owen Power (22:27).

“You’re obviously missing (42-plus) minutes a night, and that will be dispersed through other guys, but mostly through (Dahlin),” Granato said. “He’s never getting an easy shift out there so it’s a grind for him.”