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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

Given the way their game against the San Jose Sharks went on Saturday, it seems that the Buffalo Sabres’ day off Sunday was particularly well-timed.

Three players – forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Ennis and defenseman Cody Franson – took hits in that game that required checks from the trainers. All three were cleared to return to play that day, but Girgensons was still feeling the effects of his hit Monday and sat out of practice for a maintenance day.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that Girgensons’ injury is not head-related, but did leave open the possibility that the forward will sit when Buffalo hosts the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.

There was also good news coming out of practice on Monday – defenseman Zach Bogosian was a full participant yet again, and it appears that his season debut is inching closer. While not committing to any specific game, Bogosian said that he feels ready enough to play right now, and his coach backed him up.

“He looks like he should be ready to play sometime this week,” Bylsma said. “We put him in a few more situations on purpose to get some 5-on-5 situations and we’ll see how he reacts. We put him in those situations because the game ones are coming up for him.”

Bogosian played on the right side in alternating defensive pairs during line rushes, but then saw time playing on the offside to the left of Rasmus Ristolainen when 5-on-5 drills began later in practice.

Wherever he ends up come game time, Bogosian said he’ll feel comfortable.

“I’ve played both, I guess more on the left side in short spurts but I’m comfortable,” he said. “I think at this point any game I get into, whether I play the left or the right, it’s going to take me a little while to get my timing back so I’m prepared to do both sides."

When asked about his rehab workouts with pro scout Dennis Miller, Bogosian was quick to bring up another injured Sabre playing a role in his return to the ice.

Cody McCormick has helped out a lot as well, on and off the ice,” he said. “More for my sanity and not being around the guys, but it’s nice having him around and he’s a great team guy so both of those guys have been a part of me coming back as well as the training staff.”

McCormick has not played since January of last season, which was cut short due to blood clots. But for the time being, it seems he’s found another way to make an impact.

Ristolainen extended his point streak to four games (3G+3A) on Saturday with his assist on Ryan O’Reilly’s third-period goal against the Sharks. He has 11 points this season, tied for 12th in the League amongst defensemen and is rapidly approaching the 20 points he totaled in 78 games last season.

“I think I’ve been doing a better job than last year defensively and offensively,” he said. “I think I can still be better and better and I try to be better and better.

“I try to help the team offensively, lately I have some points. But I don’t think that way; I try to take care first in the defensive zone and then try to get something started on offense too.”

The eighth-overall pick in 2013 may not think offense first, but his ability to contribute to that aspect of the game has been abundantly clear. This season, it’s been amplified not only by his self-improvement but also by a new system that stresses a five-man offense.

The message defensemen have received from coaches, he said, is “Keep your head up and shoot.”

“Even in the offensive zone it’s been a five-man unit and our defensemen have been a big part of that, not just Rasmus,” Bylsma said. “We’ve had a lot more shots, a lot more activity, a lot more including of defenseman and I think you’re probably going to see other guys’ numbers be a little bit higher than they were last year as well.”

In respects to Ristolainen, who recently turned 21, Bylsma said that the offensive talent was evident even before he saw him on the ice for the first time in camp. The skills Ristolainen has flashed at times this season bring Bylsma back to the goal he scored to win the 2013 World Junior Championships for Finland.

In that game, Ristolainen received the puck along the right-wing boards and skated wide around a defender to create a lane he would use to skate through the crease and deliver a backhand winner in overtime.

“He’s just a strong skater, he’s a powerful guy, him coming down even in a couple times last game,” Bylsma said. “I think it was in the third period, he went and cut down behind the guy coming out on him, got the puck back from [Ennis], now he’s coming from the top of the circles to the dot.

When I see that it reminds me of his game-winning goal for Finland.”

26 Matt Moulson – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 12 Brian Gionta
22 Johan Larsson – 15 Jack Eichel – 63 Tyler Ennis
82 Marcus Foligno – 59 Tim Schaller – 23 Sam Reinhart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 88 Jamie McGinn

Defensemen: 4 Josh Gorges, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 47 Zach Bogosian, 29 Jake McCabe, 46 Cody Franson, 3 Mark Pysyk, 25 Carlo Colaiacovo

31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark

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