Yet another injury has bitten the Buffalo Sabres, who now appear to be at least a few more weeks away from returning to full health.
Nicolas Deslauriers was absent from practice on Monday morning and will be out for 3-5 weeks with a lower-body injury, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. Deslauriers sustained the injury Saturday during the 4-3 loss to Detroit but stayed in the game.
Fellow forward Tyler Ennis is also week-to-week with an upper-body injury stemming from a hit against the boards on Dec. 30 in Washington. Tim Schaller was recalled from Rochester on Monday to help fill the void.
Deslauriers has seven points (3+4) in 38 contests this season, averaging 9:39 of ice time. The role that he plays on the Sabres' fourth line, however, will not be easily replaced.
"I think he's been our most physical guy the last 10 games," Bylsma said. "Marcus [Foligno] getting back in there has offered that as well, but Nic's been a pretty annoying guy with those 10 minutes in being physical and being hard. We saw it be a factor in a number of our games … It's something we're going to miss in our lineup."
Having often played on the wing opposite Deslauriers this season, Foligno recognizes as well as anyone what Deslauriers' absence will mean.
"We're gonna miss that jam on the left side," Foligno said. "If we need someone to step up on a hit, he can deliver it. For me, it's good because we read off each other, where we're hitting, so we're going to have to get used to Tim Schaller a little bit, but we have guys that can step up and I'm sure they will."
Schaller tallied two assists in six games during his first stint in Buffalo this season, which ended with his re-assignment on Dec. 3. He's scored eight points (4+4) in his last nine games for Rochester.
Asked why Schaller was the choice to call up, Bylsma's answer was simple.
"He'd been the best player down there," the coach said. "I talked to [Amerks coach Randy Cunneyworth] and he was the best forward down there and that’s why he's getting the opportunity."
Bylsma said that he prefers to play Schaller at center as opposed to a wing position, meaning David Legwand will move to the wing while Schaller's in the lineup. Schaller is willing to play any position – he even played defense in junior, which shows in his two-way game at the pro level.
"I don’t like to get too carried away with strictly playing defense but that’s one of the strong points of my game," he said. "I always say with good defense comes offense."
As it stands, the Sabres do not have any extra forwards on their roster. Whether or not they'll recall one prior to a three-game road trip that begins in Chicago on Thursday is a decision that will be made after their game at home on Tuesday, Bylsma said.
There was a bit of good news regarding a player's injury status on Monday, too. Both goaltender Robin Lehner and defenseman Mark Pysyk continued to practice with the team as they rehab from lower-body injuries, with Bylsma offering an update on the latter.
"He's had now four conditioning skates and three practices with the team so he is very close to returning to play," Bylsma said of Pysyk. "It may happen this weekend."
The Sabres practice special teams almost every day, but with one caveat: a large portion of their penalty kill unit also belongs to their power play. For this reason, the amount of action that players like Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane and Brian Gionta see on the penalty kill in practice is limited.
Buffalo took the time to change that on Monday, using a chunk of the workout to focus on the penalty kill with their full units.
"We had Ryan O'Reilly and [Kane] and Brian Gionta and [Zemgus Girgensons] all killing," Bylsma said. "It's something they don't get to do often and we have to practice it and get better at it. This was just an opportunity to do that."
More on the Sabres' penalty kill can be found in today's Sabres in: 90.