Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – It seemed curious as to why Buffalo Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton hadn’t played yet in a preseason game this season. After talking to him on Friday, it all made perfect sense.
Being new to the team, it takes time to get to know the system and the other players on the ice. Clifton thought there was a better way to do that.
"Honestly [Don Granato] asked, and I only wanted to play a couple. It was more productive for me to get into practice, get reps, and learn the systems before I jump out there for a little preseason live action," said Clifton following Friday's practice. "But yes, I’m itching. The more games you watch, the more you want to be in, but soon enough."
When it comes to veteran players, Granato makes it his business to find out exactly what they need to get ready. The Sabres head coach felt Clifton and Erik Johnson are in the same category, as neither has played yet in a preseason game,
"They know what they need to get ready for a NHL season, and if they feel two games is enough, then it’s enough," said Granato following Friday's practice.
"The other side is that the practices, the number of reps they get of system motions and movements in practice, far exceeds what you’re going to get in a game. There's tons more reps, and they’ve liked the practices and they’ve extracted that out of practice. And then the communication, they’re getting a rep and then 30 seconds later, they’re getting another rep and another rep. And every time they’re communicating back with their defensive partner and that scenario that just happened, they value that most."
Clifton says he’s been building chemistry with his new defensive partner Rasmus Dahlin.
"You watch him skate, and he’s dynamic and elite with the puck," he said. "Then it’s just reading off each other, and he loves getting speed in the neutral zone, so we switch sides. I learned that early on, because he likes to be so active. I just [want to] compliment him as best I can."
As a member of the Boston Bruins, Clifton only came to Buffalo in the dead of winter. He arrived here very early in August and saw a different Buffalo.
"It’s something really different, and I was pleasantly surprised," Clifton admitted. "It’s been great. The sun has been shining and a couple of mid-90s days. In winter, I've been around snow all my life and I love the snow, so I’m not too worried about it. ... Hopefully it gets a little colder, because that means games are here."
Friday’s lines looked like this for Buffalo:
Murray – Kulich – Rosen
Greenway – Mittelstadt – Tuch
Peterka – Cozens – Olofsson
Girgensons – Krebs – Okposo
Rousek – Jost – Biro
Skinner – Thompson – Benson
Rasmus Dahlin – Connor Clifton
Owen Power – Henri Jokiharju
Mattias Samuelsson – Erik Johnson
Jeremy Davies – Joe Cecconi
Riley Stillman – Kale Clague
Devon Levi will start in goal on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and is expected to play the whole game.
Join Brian Koziol and myself at 2 p.m. ET for pregame coverage on WGR when you’ll hear from Granato, Clifton and Casey Mittelstadt.