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Kulikov feeling well, hoping to build on first goal

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Dmitry Kulikov said the number hadn't exactly been weighing on him, but it was in the back of his mind. Going into Tuesday's game in Montreal, Kulikov had yet to score a goal as a Buffalo Sabre. His last goal came on April 15, 2016, in the playoffs for the Florida Panthers. 

As a defenseman playing top minutes, Kulikov's primary concern is holding down his own end and moving the puck quickly up the ice. He only scored one goal in 73 regular-season games for Florida last season, and his career high in a season is eight. 

Still, he felt he wanted to contribute more offensively, so while his goal late in a 5-0 game against Montreal on Tuesday - a shot from the blue line that saw its way through traffic - might not have meant much in regard to the outcome of the game, it did mean something to him.

"I think it's the kind of goal that doesn't really matter in the game situation but I think for me, personally, it was good to get it out of the way," Kulikov said. 

Video: BUF@MTL: Kulikov blasts shot through traffic and in

Kulikov has played three games since returning from a 12-game absence caused by an injury to his lower back. He sustained the injury when he crashed into a bench door during a preseason game in October, cutting his preseason short and forcing him to miss the season opener. The same injury also forced him to miss a 13-game stretch beginning in mid-November.

When he returned this time, he said it was the best he's felt all season. He's made the decision along with the team not to participate in most morning skates from here on out - instead, he'll use the mornings to take care of his body - but three games later, he smiled when asked if he was still feeling well.

"It's been pretty good," he said. "I'm not going to lie, it's been holding up and feeling good."

Kulikov's played big minutes since returning; the 22:47 he skated in Montreal on Tuesday was the lowest of the three games he's played. In fact, in 23 total games this season, his average ice time of 22:34 is a career high.

"He's dealt with a tough injury … He wasn't feeling 100 percent," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's something he's dealing with going forward, probably with every game that he plays. He's getting his feet back underneath him, getting his timing, getting his defensive play back underneath him the last three games and we need him to be at his best."

Kulikov pointed to the nature of his goal on Tuesday - a shot on net that simply found its way in from the blue line - as an example of why he feels he, and Buffalo's defensive unit as a whole, needs to shoot the puck more. Doing so, he said, will create more chances for bounces to go in Buffalo's favor. 

If shooting more does become an outcome of scoring on Tuesday, his goal might end up being more impactful than it seemed.

"I don't know," Kulikov said. "They say when they come, they come in bunches so hopefully it'll give me some confidence."


Medical report

Bylsma said that defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe both skated on their own on Wednesday morning. Gorges has missed the last 11 games with a hip injury, while McCabe has missed three games with an injured shoulder.

"Jake saw the doctor this morning and got moved to skating so we saw him get on the ice and his rehab is progressing hopefully," Bylsma said. "Josh, he skated the last three days, conditioning skate today and he's going to see the doctor this afternoon. He's at the point where he could be, given a good report from the doctor, could be working back to playing when he skates."


Wednesday's practice

The Sabres came into practice on Wednesday looking to quickly put their loss in Montreal behind them as they prepare to host the New York Rangers on Thursday night. It will be the first of nine home games for the Sabres in February, as opposed to four on the road. They won all four of their home games in January.

In other words, the time for the Sabres to make up their deficit in the Eastern Conference standings is now.

"We're in a situation where we have to win 60 percent of our points, 65 percent of our points," Bylsma said. "That's the situation we were in going into the game in Montreal and that's the situation we're still in after that game. We got beat in that game, we got beat badly in that game. We have to learn from it, we have to get better in certain areas, but we also have to turn the page or turn and look toward the next game against the Rangers and now there's [33] games left where we have to focus on getting that number of points the remainder of the way."

Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson switched line at practice, while Nicolas Deslauriers skated both as a forward and a defenseman.

Brian Duff caught up with Ennis to talk about his recent play in Wednesday's Sabres in :90, which you can watch below. 

Video: Sabres in :90 (2/1/17)

Here's how the full lineup looked at practice:

26 Matt Moulson - 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 - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 63 Tyler Ennis

Defensemen: 77 Dmitry Kulikov, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 47 Zach Bogosian, 6 Cody Franson, 41 Justin Falk, 38 Taylor Fedun, 44 Nicolas Deslauriers 

40 Robin Lehner 
31 Anders Nilsson

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