Ralph Krueger has reiterated that players' re-entries from the COVID-related absence list will occur on a case-by-case basis, a necessity for dealing with a virus that affects different individuals in different ways.
Few examples better illustrate the virus' unbiased nature than Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen, who became the first two Sabres to enter COVID protocols following positive tests on Feb. 2. Hall said he never experienced a symptom and was able to return as soon his 10-day quarantine had passed.
Ristolainen, who was removed from the list Wednesday, is still working his way back to form in Buffalo and is not expected to join the team on its four-game road trip that begins tonight in Washington.
"With Risto, we're going to take our time," Krueger said. "You can see the writing on the wall, that he needs more space to get his energy level up. Everyone one of us that had COVID has a different pathway back. His will still take some time."
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
The Sabres at one point had nine inclusions on the COVID-related absence list, a number that had whittled to zero as of Wednesday. Four players - Hall, Tobias Rieder, Rasmus Dahlin (who did not test positive), and Jake McCabe - have already returned to game action.
The others, aside from Ristolainen - Dylan Cozens, Curtis Lazar, Casey Mittelstadt, and Brandon Montour - have been cleared to play, though not all of them will be in the lineup Thursday.
"We certainly will, again, remain patient with the way we reintegrate the players on our rosters, so not all of them will come back in," Krueger said. "We're just happy to see them cleared."
Mittelstadt and Cozens both said they tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic. Lazar experienced symptoms for about four days, including fatigue and a loss of taste and smell.
"You realize this thing's real, and it's no joke," Lazar said. "Us guys that had it, kind of talking about our symptoms and what we're going through, it's really interesting the wide range of symptoms and how guys can be affected."
Scouting the Capitals
Washington snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday, one of its strongest defensive outings of the season.
The Capitals rank sixth in goals per game (3.50) but 27th in goals allowed per game (3.57). They are essentially a statistical inverse of the Islanders, who entered their series with the Sabres ranked near the top of the league defensively but toward the bottom on offense.
The Sabres will be looking for an offensive spark after returning from their two-week layoff with just one goal in two games against the Islanders.
"The timing and finishing are elements that connected to goal scoring are the most difficult ones to have as a hockey player," Krueger said. … The principles in play and the structure and the way the guys re-entered against the Islanders and how little we gave up, we're really pleased with.
"We were very unhappy with the finishing product, we're not happy with the results and, again, we're not looking for excuses. But the reality is we need to get our timing back."
Players to watch
Buffalo: Rasmus Dahlin
The defenseman has eclipsed the 25:00 mark in each of Buffalo's last two games, including a season-high 25:21 on Tuesday. The Sabres held a 25-10 advantage in shot attempts (71.4 percent) with Dahlin on the ice in the 3-0 loss.
"It is the defensive game, it's the game without the puck, it's the ability to play against top lines where him and [defense partner Colin Miller] really had to step up and play a much bigger defensive role for us here the last couple of games with the bodies out," Krueger said. "I thought they did an excellent job."
Washington: Nicklas Backstrom
The veteran centerman has been a constant for a Capitals team that has dealt with COVID-related absences to many of its star players. Backstrom paces the Capitals in goals (7) and points (19) and enters Thursday on a four-game point streak. He has tallied a point in 12 of the Capitals' 14 games.
Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m. or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.