Evan Rodrigues was back on the ice for practice with the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, his first skate with the team since he sustained a lower-body injury in Florida on Nov. 25.
Rodrigues has missed five games in the interim, though his absence may not extend much longer. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said he expects the forward to be ready to play at some point on the team's upcoming road trip in Western Canada, which begins Thursday in Calgary.
"He looked good today," Krueger said. "I still haven't gotten feedback from the medical team, but he looked like he was moving quite naturally and the prep to get him here has been successful. We expect that he will be available during this trip."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
With Rodrigues back in the mix, the Sabres assigned forward Curtis Lazar to Rochester prior to practice. Lazar tallied one goal and averaged 8:51 of ice time in six games for Buffalo.
Rodrigues said he was beginning to feel his game come on at the time of his injury, which occurred during his first shift of the night against the Panthers. He had dressed in seven straight games after moving in and out of the lineup through the first month of the season.
"It felt like my feet were back under me and I was using my speed a lot handling the puck," Rodrigues said. "I just had a lot of confidence. Obviously, it wasn't great timing. But it healed up pretty quick, which was nice."
The Sabres practiced without defenseman Zach Bogosian, who took a maintenance day. Kyle Okposo skated with the team for the second straight day after returning from a concussion on Monday.
Here's how the team lined up:
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
37 Casey Mittelstadt - 90 Marcus Johansson - 13 Jimmy Vesey
53 Jeff Skinner - 22 Johan Larsson - 43 Conor Sheary / 21 Kyle Okposo
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 74 Rasmus Asplund - 15 Jean-Sebastien Dea / 71 Evan Rodrigues
Defensemen: 6 Marco Scandella, 10 Henri Jokiharju, 19 Jake McCabe, 33 Colin Miller, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 62 Brandon Montour
35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton
Jokiharju remains on top power play
Henri Jokiharju made his debut on the Sabres' top power-play unit against New Jersey on Monday, and it paid off in a big way. Jokiharju buried a slap shot from the point in the second period, marking the first power-play goal of the 20-year-old's young career.
Jokiharju was back in that spot during practice on Tuesday.
"You need to be patient," Krueger said. "It's a big responsibility to step into that role. Our stomach was telling us that giving him a little bit more responsibility in the group right now would be good for his development. We're being careful on where we placed him in the past in the matchups, but he's earned the opportunity to show the offensive side that he has and let it develop a little bit more.
"We're excited about him getting a goal last night. That was really the kind of chaos that we'd like to see once in a while on the power play and there were principles that were executed there back-to-back-to-back that created the goal within the structure we'd like to see. But it's a big responsibility and I thought he did well with it."
A surprise for George Babcock
The team's longtime assistant equipment manager worked his 2,000th game in Boston on Nov. 21. Players celebrated by surprising Babock with a snowmobile, which Bogosian drove onto the ice at the end of practice. Check it out below.
Video: SABRES IN :50
Krueger spoke about the impression Babcock - beloved by all in the organization - has already made during his short time as coach.
"George, you can just feel the passion," Krueger said. "He monitors the line changes for me on the bench during the game. You ask him to do a task of that nature, over and above everything else that he's already doing, and he does it 100 percent. I mean, he's focused on it.
"... So, my personal interaction with him is that way. Of course, he's doing so many other things for the players that you can see the appreciation that they feel. Above all, it's the passion and the energy that he brings every day. I had no idea how long he'd been here, but it doesn't look like the excitment is waning at all. He just does whatever the team needs or ask for, whether at home or on the road. It's a strong spirit to have."