Jack Eichel joined Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson as absentees from the Buffalo Sabres' practice at HARBORCENTER on Wednesday, but only for a maintenance day. Coach Dan Bylsma said that he expects Eichel to be ready to play in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
If the Sabres' recall of rookie forward Justin Bailey on Wednesday afternoon is any indication, the prognosis for either Larsson or Girgensons might not be as encouraging.
Bylsma had said after practice that both forwards were being evaluated with the possibility of playing on Thursday and that a call-up would only be necessary should one or both be unavailable.
However, in a corresponding move to the Bailey recall, Girgensons was placed on injured reserve. Both Girgensons and Larsson last played on Saturday in Boston. Girgensons has been out since Monday's practice while Larsson was injured during Tuesday's morning skate.
Bailey, a Buffalo native, has adapted well to the American Hockey League in his first professional season, ranking second on the Rochester Americans in goals (10) and fourth in points (23). He's scored 11 points (5+6) in his last eight games alone.
Bailey played one game for the Sabres during the preseason, logging 14:31 of ice time and putting one shot on goal.
FUN AT FORWARD FOR McCABE
With hopes of avoiding a stint on IR for Girgensons or Larsson still intact, Bylsma proceeded into the game against Florida on Tuesday with seven defensemen in his lineup rather than recalling a forward from the Amerks.
Jake McCabe was ultimately chosen to switch from defense to right wing for the game, skating on Buffalo's fourth line alongside Dan Catenacci and David Legwand. If you're wondering when McCabe last played forward, well, so was he.
"I don’t know … squirt? Pee-wee? A long time ago," McCabe said. "I knew the injury situation and that it was possible. They told me before the game. I kind of went over some systems with Coach [Dave] Barr and just got mentally prepared."
McCabe accumulated three shots and three hits in 9:34 of ice time. While he admitted the shifts were more tiring – he joked that Brian Gionta told him there's a lot of wasted energy from "just skating around" – he appeared to enjoy each and every one of them.
"I told him that he did a poor job because when you play that well, it makes you want to play him again there," Bylsma said. "I thought Jake did a real good job of forechecking and skating. He said today he enjoyed maybe a little bit being the hunter versus the hunted on the forecheck."
Obviously, there were a few adjustments. Bylsma said he caught McCabe skating backwards a few times when he'd be more suited to skate forward, for example. McCabe himself admitted it took a few shifts before he got used to thinking through the systems as a forward.
"Jake's a pretty intelligent and cerebral guy when it comes to playing and often there are areas of our game that are applicable to both playing forward and D," Bylsma said. "Puck retrievals, coming out of D-zone, even the wall play is something that every one of our defensemen takes in practice and practices. Jakes pretty good at it, so he was fully ready."
So, given his results, might we eventually see McCabe again on a forward line?
"He asked today, 'What do you want me to play?'" Bylsma said."I said 'You're a defenseman, Jake.'"
A POSITIVE FROM TUESDAY'S GAME
After two games without a power-play goal, Buffalo was 2-for-4 against the Panthers. While Sam Reinhart scored both goals at Roberto Luongo's doorstep, Ryan O'Reilly also factored in each time with an assist.
"I thought Ryan actually was a guy who stood out last night in how he played," Bylsma said. "In the second and third period, he was almost dominant in the offensive zone, at times going 1-on-3 and holding off guys. I think that's the best he's played in a while for us.
"He's squeezing a little bit when it comes to shooting the puck and scoring goals for us right now, but I think that's a frustration we all share."
Hearing that, one play in particular from the second period comes to mind. O'Reilly carried the puck into the offensive zone and was able to stickhandle his way through a double team, maintaining possession long enough to create a potential shooting lane and ultimately drawing a hooking penalty from Jaromir Jagr.
O'Reilly is currently in the midst of a 13-game goal scoring drought (although, to be fair, he has scored at least an assist in all but four of those games). While he didn’t break that drought on Tuesday, it's plays like that Jagr penalty that show the other areas he excels in even he's not finding the back of the net.
The Sabres and Flyers will face off Thursday at 7 p.m. from Wells Fargo Center. Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. And stay tuned during the TV broadcast for the beginning of Round 2 of Sabres Showdown where Tyler Ennis goes head-to-head against Rasmus Ristolainen.