Rodrigues makes his case to stay at center
A late flight back to Buffalo roughly 12 hours earlier led Sabres coach Phil Housley to make one change to his lines during Friday’s practice at KeyBank Center.
Tage Thompson, scratched in seven of the past nine games, joined Johan Larsson and Patrik Berglund on the fourth line, with Zemgus Girgensons rotating in. Housley said the change was made since a few of his players are “banged up,” and added that any lineup changes will be game-time decisions before the puck drops Saturday against the Canucks.
However, Housley stuck with the third line that sparked the Sabres’ 6-5 overtime thriller in Montreal on Thursday: Evan Rodrigues at center, Vladimir Sobotka on the left side and Sam Reinhart on the right.
After all, Rodrigues had two assists and a team-high five shots on goal against the Canadiens, a performance he called his best this season.
“I got early touches and when you do that you kind of feel more comfortable,” Rodrigues said following practice Friday. “You start wanting the puck on your stick more and more as the game goes on. That’s what I was trying to do.”
The speed of Rodrigues’ line took advantage of a few ill-advised rushes by the Canadiens’ defensemen, sparking three odd-man rushes, two of which led to goals.
First, Rodrigues froze Carey Price by faking a wrister on a two-on-one and passing to Sobotka, who one-timed a shot into the open net for a 1-0 lead.
Sobotka scored his second of the game and third of the season at 14:04 in the first after Price failed to control a rebound from Rodrigues’ wrister, giving the Sabres a 2-1 lead.
Though the Sabres saw four leads disappear, Rasmus Ristolainen’s overtime winner put them in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Still, the Sabres left Montreal unsatisfied, Rodrigues included. He and Larsson are the lone regulars who have yet to score. Rodrigues has six assists in 13 games, but none of his 28 shots have gone in.
He’s still waiting for a bounce or deflection to go his way, yet he expressed confidence that “the flood gates will open” once he finally scores. Moving back to the middle has helped.
Rodrigues began the season as the fourth-line center, playing alongside Jason Pominville and Girgensons, but Housley tweaked his pairings with the bottom-six failing to produce much offense.
Another change was made Thursday night, this time to spark Rodrigues and Sobotka.
It appears neither will be moving again after their performance at the Bell Centre.
“I look at the opportunities he had last night and he had some really good looks,” Housley said of Rodrigues. “Maybe we’re talking differently if those go in, but I just like the way he plays the game in the middle of the ice for us, the way he disperses the puck. … I just like the way he’s playing in that position.”
Thompson was the first player on the ice Friday, firing shot after shot into an empty net, and proceeded to finally join one of the Sabres’ four lines during rushes. That doesn’t mean the 21-year-old will be in the lineup against the Canucks.
Housley told reporters that some players are dealing with “bumps and bruises.” That included Berglund, who was in pain after blocking a shot Thursday night. Berglund and Girgensons both practiced, as Housley saw this as an opportunity to get Thompson involved.
Housley wasn’t ready to name his starting goalie for Saturday.
Linus Ullmark was pulled after allowing five goals on 32 shots in two periods Thursday, and Carter Hutton proceeded to stop all five shots he faced.
The Sabres announced Friday a program that allows season ticket holders to trade tickets they cannot use for points that can be spent in the team store.
The amount of points received will depend on the opponent, day of the week and seat location. Tickets can be traded at SabresTicketExchange.com up to seven days prior to each game, but there is a limit on the number of seats that can be exchanged each game.
Sabres center Evan Rodrigues put five shots on goal Thursday against Montreal. He has six assists, but no goals this season.