On a morning when 2,500 students filled the stands to watch practice at KeyBank Center as part of the NHL's Future Goals program, Robin Lehner had to defend his decision to wave to a young fan prior to giving up three goals and being pulled in a 4-3 loss in Toronto on Tuesday night.
Lehner was seen on the Sportsnet telecast waving to a woman seated near the Sabres bench as he took a drink of water during a television timeout. The goalie said she was FaceTiming her son.
Amidst suggestions that the interaction might have affected his concentration in the game, Lehner addressed the matter following practice on Thursday.
"This mom with a 5-year-old kid waving in his pajamas, all happy, you know what, I'm going to wave back," Lehner said. "I don't care what anyone thinks. If it was Jonathan Toews or Carey Price or whatever, I'm not anything close to what they are, but they would be [looked at as] the best people in the world.
"You know what, I have this thing around me, and I accept that fact. I accept that fact that it looks bad. But it doesn't affect my game. People that know me know I'm a calm, relaxed goalie. That's why I can have a bad goal and bounce back. That's why I can play through these things. I'm better mentally than that."
Video: Sabres in :90 (1/19/17)
Here's what else we learned at Thursday's practice:
Anders Nilsson was sick with the flu and did not practice. Bylsma said he was not yet sure whether the goalie will feel well enough to dress against Detroit on Friday. Linus Ullmark was recalled from Rochester to serve as the second goalie at practice.
"The night after the Toronto game I got the text that he was not feeling well, I guess that was the morning of the next day," Bylsma said in regards to Nilsson. "He's gone through a cycle, so to speak, yesterday and he has kept some food down today so it's too early to tell."
Bylsma said that defenseman Josh Gorges, out with a hip injury, was scheduled to undergo an MRI to determine his progress on Thursday afternoon.
Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) continued to skate on his own on Thursday and had elements of physicality added to his session.
Ullmark's new mask
No more minions, at least for now. Ullmark was sporting a brand new mask on Thursday, and replacing the two large eyeballs we've become accustomed to seeing were two Swedish goaltending legends who Ullmark described as personal heroes: Stefan Liv and Pelle Lindbergh.
Lindbergh, who became the first European goalie to win the Vezina Trophy while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1985, died in a car accident later that year. Liv, a professional player in Sweden for most of his career, was killed in a plane crash while a member of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL in 2011.
"I wanted to pay tribute to these fallen heroes," Ullmark said. "Pelle, he was the first European goalie to win the Vezina and all that show that European goalies can play in the National Hockey League and then you have Stefan that was one of the best guys off the ice, on the ice, and also when it comes to winning, especially those tight games and when it all came down to the trophies and all that stuff. Not being the best regular season player, but once the playoffs started he was a monster."
After sitting as a precautionary scratch in Toronto on Tuesday, Tyler Ennis returned to practice and was a full participant. Ennis scored in his return from a 30-game absence against Dallas on Monday, but the Sabres did not want him to play back-to-back games so soon after a long recovery and thus kept him out of the lineup in Toronto.
With the Sabres set to begin another back-to-back set at home against Detroit on Friday, Bylsma said there is a chance Ennis is able to play in both games this time around.
"It's more likely that he'll play this back-to-back than the first one," Bylsma said. "I kind of anticipated the first one. The plan right now is for him to play in the Detroit game and hopefully he can keep going forward in the Montreal game [on Saturday]."
With Ennis back in the fold, here's how the lines looked at practice:
63 Tyler Ennis - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier/44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson
29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun
40 Robin Lehner
35 Linus Ullmark