There was a lot to process at the Buffalo Sabres’ morning skate on Tuesday. Evander Kane was on the ice ahead of schedule. Zemgus Girgensons was absent for the second-straight day. Zach Bogosian’s participation in line rushes seemed to signal his return to the lineup.
We can begin by addressing that last point, which was confirmed afterward when Sabres coach Dan Bylsma announced that Bogosian will make his season debut Tuesday night against the NHL’s top-scoring offense in the Dallas Stars.
Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV with puck drop set for 7 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Bogosian’s return has been a long time coming. Expected to receive top defensive minutes, he sustained a lower-body injury in the first weekend of training camp that forced him to miss the entirety of the preseason and 17 regular-season games to date.
In the meantime, he’s been involved with all off-ice activities and has made a point of trying to keep his teammates loose. Now, in his first game since Buffalo concluded last season against Pittsburgh on April 11, his goal becomes readjusting to game action.
“I haven’t played a game since April so obviously a lot of things factor into that,” Bogosian said. “Conditioning is one, timing is another, it’s something you just try to keep your close eye on those and play the game that’s in front of you.”
His coach has other concerns.
“I told him to run a few miles this afternoon to tire himself out,” Bylsma said. “He’s going to be full of piss and vinegar … He hasn’t played a game since April, he’s pretty amped up to play and he’s such a great skater, my worry is more him being too rambunctious than not being able to keep up.”
Bogosian will play on the right side on a pair with Jake McCabe. Josh Gorges and Rasmus Ristolainen will remain a pair, while Mark Pysyk will play alongside Cody Franson. Carlo Colaiacovo is expected to be a healthy scratch.
Given the team they’re facing tonight, Bogosian’s return couldn’t have come at a better time. Dallas leads the League with 3.61 goals per game and is second to Montreal on the power play (29.8 percent success rate) and shots per game (31.7).
Six players in the NHL have accumulated 20 or more points already this season. Three of them – forwards Tyler Seguin (26) and Jamie Benn (25) and defenseman John Klingberg (20) – play for the Stars.
“To have Gorges and Risto as a pair and Jake and Zach as a pair, it increases our ability to skate and play at that speed,” Bylsma said. “It’s going to be a big factor for us tonight.”
“You use your own speed to match their speed, try to gap up as fast as possible and eliminate them from making nice plays,” Bogosian said. “If you give good players enough time, they’re going to make plays so have a good gap, play physical against them … [have] good sticks on the defensive side and go from there.”
Linus Ullmark will receive the start in net for the Sabres. Girgensons is not expected to play after sustaining an undisclosed injury on a hit in open ice in the third period of Buffalo’s game against San Jose on Saturday. Tim Schaller will take his place.
When Bylsma announced that Kane had sustained an MCL injury during a loss to the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 24, he said that the timetable for the forward’s return would be 4-6 weeks. Just over three weeks later, his presence on the ice Tuesday morning was a welcome surprise.
Kane said that he started skating last week and decided in conjunction with the Sabres’ training staff that today was right for him to return to team activities.
While there is no date for his return just yet, he will travel with Sabres on their road trip to St. Louis and Dallas on Wednesday.
“He seems to be a little bit ahead of schedule,” Bylsma said. “He had a hard day yesterday and responded well so hopefully we see him on the ice at practice tomorrow as well and hopefully that’s a good thing.”
“I did the same thing last year my first game and came back in three-and-a-half [weeks] so that was kind of my goal to repeat that same type of recovery process,” Kane said. “It’s looking like I’m going to be able to do that.”
Kane, a top-six forward for Buffalo in the eight games he played prior to his injury, returns to a team that has made significant strides in his absence. The Sabres have gone 6-2-1 since Kane’s injury after beginning the season 2-6-0, a testament to the continued development of a team with several new pieces.
That success, Kane said, makes his return all the more exciting.
“I was being a cheerleader the entire time,” he said. “It’s good to get back to .500. It’s a bit of fresh start for us and we’ve got a tough stretch coming up playing Dallas twice, St. Louis twice and Nashville. We’re going to have to be ready and try to make the most of these next couple weeks here.”
Few faces are more familiar in Buffalo than that of Dallas coach Lindy Ruff, who spent 15 seasons as the Sabres coach and won a franchise-record 571 regular-season games and 101 playoff games along the way.
No team that Ruff had in Buffalo had more regular-success than the Sabres of 2006-07, a season that saw the Sabres claim the Presidents’ Trophy with 113 points. On Tuesday, Ruff said that his current team in Dallas is reminiscent of that memorable Sabres squad.
“I think our setup is very similar,” he said. “We’re pretty deep when it comes to scoring, probably three or four lines deep, and a lot of times you go on the road and the other teams doing a good job against the top line in limiting opportunities but our secondary scoring has been able to push through and win games and the team speed is very similar.”
Meanwhile, the Stars coach has also been impressed with what’s on the horizon for the current team in Buffalo.
“The last 10 games, they’ve been the best in the Atlantic Division; I think it’s for a reason,” he said.
“That young defense, if they’re not there yet they’re probably close to being a defense that can be here and Eichel, I said it yesterday, he reminds me a little bit of a Tyler Seguin two or three years ago and he’s doing a great job for being this young at this time of his career.”
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 – Jamie McGinn
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
3 Mark Pysyk – 46 Cody Franson
35 Linus Ullmark
31 Chad Johnson