The Buffalo Sabres allowed 12 goals in a pair of “dress rehearsal” games, and mainly to close the preseason, bad defense was the cause.
The Buffalo Sabres preseason ended with a pair of painful losses, and to make matters worse, they were “dress rehearsals.” This means the lineup you saw closely resembles what you will see when the Blue and Gold start play for real this Thursday vs. the New York Rangers.
But, the keyword phrase is “closely resembles.” For example, check out the Sabres lineup from Friday night when they faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, and you will notice something:
No Kyle Okposo, and despite his age and lack of speed, Okposo remains one of the Sabres best defensive forwards. Want more insight? Just check out what head coach Don Granato said about Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons flanking Peyton Krebs:
"“Those three guys together, they bring attributes to our team that others need to pick up on. And they have, and they will more. But that is a very, very important trio for us, especially where we’re at right now.”"
Source: Krebs continued to show hardnosed identity in preseason finale, Sabres.com
Krebs line remains valuable for the Buffalo Sabres, but there’s a major issue
We can all agree that Kyle Okposo’s days in a Sabres uniform are numbered, and there’s a good chance 2023-24 could be his final season in the NHL. Further, there’s also the question of whether the 35-year-old can handle a full 82-game slate.
Despite how valuable the Krebs line is, there’s still the issue of finding someone on the bottom-six to step up and play well defensively in lieu of Okposo if the grind of a long season proves too much. There are also injuries we need to account for, too, as the odds are slim-to-none that Okposo, Krebs, or Girgensons will make it through a full season unscathed, especially with their respective playing styles. Further, the trio won’t be on the ice in long shifts.
Therefore, someone, most likely on the Buffalo Sabres bottom-six, must step up. Projected extra skater Tyson Jost could be that player if he sneaks his way into the lineup on game day.
Or perhaps projected third-line center Casey Mittelstadt, who plays better defense than he’s given credit for. The 24-year-old logged 50 takeaways, and the Buffalo Sabres also had a respectable 90.2% save percentage when Mittelstadt was on the ice at 5-on-5.
The Sabres will look much better defensively with Okposo and Girgensons lining up alongside Krebs, but they need more help in the bottom-six. Maybe someone like Jost or Mittelstadt will step up, but there is no way the Blue and Gold can rely solely on the Krebs line to bail them out defensively this season.
(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)