Ro­drigues makes his case to stay at cen­ter

The Buffalo News - - NHL - By Lance Lysowski NEWS SPORTS RE­PORTER

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 SabresTick­etEx­ up to seven days prior to each game, but there is a limit on the num­ber of seats that can be ex­changed each game.

Harry Scull Jr./Buf­falo News

Sabres cen­ter Evan Ro­drigues put five shots on goal Thurs­day against Mon­treal. He has six as­sists, but no goals this sea­son.

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