BUFFALO — Forget, for a moment, that Brayden McNabb offered glimpses of future stardom, T.J. Brennan scored in his NHL debut or former first-round pick Joe Finley showcased a fearsome edge.
The three rookie defensemen played well at times substituting on the injury-ravaged blue line. Still, it’s no coincidence the Sabres have enjoyed much greater success this season when their regular crew plays together.
Buoyed by the returns of Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr, the Sabres beat New Jersey 2-1 in a shootout Jan 24. Overall, they’re 2-0-1 since the defense corps reached full strength again, earning five of a possible six points.
The Sabres have allowed just two scores in the last 190 minutes heading into tonight’s tilt in New York against the Islanders. Goalie Ryan Miller’s goals-against average is a miniscule 0.63 over that span.
“It’s been great. We’ve been working hard to get familiar with playing with one another again,” Regehr said about the defense Friday inside the First Niagara Center. “It’s sure nice to be able to roll three pairs of defensemen. Guys are able to just keep their energy levels up a little higher.
“I think the blue line’s been solid. … It’s something to build on these last couple games.”
It’s been more than a couple of games, though.
In only 22 of the Sabres’ 51 games have six of the top seven defensemen that started the season played together. The Sabres are 13-8-1, allowing just 2.32 goals a contest, in those games. The numbers in the others – 8-16-5 and 3.41 – are awful.
Marc-Andre Gragnani, the odd man out recently, is the only defenseman to remain healthy all season. The Sabres have lost the other six for 57 total games.
The injuries, of course, have a huge ripple effect. Some defenders receive too many minutes. Pairs shift constantly.