On Sunday, the Sabres came one step closer to having their captain back. After missing the first two games of the season with a lower-body injury, Brian Gionta
was back on the ice practicing with the team and said he is “cautiously optimistic” that he’ll be able to play Monday afternoon against Columbus.
“I felt great, today was a good day, I progressed well so it felt good to get out there with the guys and we’ll see how things respond tomorrow,” he said.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma expressed hope that Gionta will be ready to play on Monday. If he is ready, he’ll likely return to his spot on the right wing alongside Evander Kane and Jack Eichel. Bylsma has rotated several forwards in that spot through the first two games.
From his vantage point, the Sabres captain has noticed his team still trying to develop the chemistry and understanding of the system – it needs to be “second nature,” he says – that it takes to win.
“We’ve had stretches where we’re doing the right things, playing well, things are going our way but we’ve also had stretches where we’re too spread out, not supporting, and teams are taking the play to us so we’ve got to find a way to get that consistency,” Gionta said.
Gionta also reiterated that the continued development hasn’t come as a surprise, a point he made before the season began.
“It is a process, we’re going through it,” he said. “We feel good about where we’re at as a group. But you still need to build throughout that season.”
Gionta’s potential return comes on a day when the team received news on another important player’s injury status. Bylsma announced after practice that an MRI on goaltender Robin Lehner revealed a high-ankle sprain that will keep the netminder out for 6-10 weeks. Lehner sustained the injury during the second period of Thursday’s season opener.
Chad Johnson is expected to start in net Monday with Nathan Lieuwen serving as his backup.
The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 2:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell with puckdrop scheduled for 3 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
GUHLE BACK ON THE ICE
Gionta wasn’t the only Sabre who returned to practice on Sunday morning. Defenseman Brendan Guhle, Buffalo’s second-round pick in this year’s draft, also practiced with the team for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury on a hit by Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf in Toronto on Sept. 25.
“I felt good,” Guhle said. “My upper-body injury feels fine. I feel comfortable so we’ll just see what happens here in the next couple of days.”
Guhle has not yet been activated off injured reserve, but his physiotherapist informed him that the healing process has been right on schedule in the time since his injury.
An 18-year-old in his first pro camp, Guhle learned a valuable lesson the hard way in Toronto. Always keep your head up, especially when Phaneuf is on the ice.
“Especially a guy like Dion, he’s a pretty good player,” Guhle said. “I think that was a pretty good lesson for me.”
Bylsma also announced on Sunday that defenseman Zach Bogosian was continuing his progression in rehabbing a lower-body injury that he sustained early in Training Camp.
“Zach has skated two days in a row now, so he’s progressing quite well and hopefully he will get on the road of being back into practice although that’s not on a timetable yet,” Bylsma said.
ULLMARK IMPRESSIVE IN ROCHESTER DEBUT
When he was activated from injured reserve on Saturday morning, goaltender Linus Ullmark had never played a game in North America. By the time the night was over, he had made 38 saves for the Amerks in a 2-1 Rochester win over the Utica Comets.
Ullmark underwent surgery on both of his hips in the offseason, making his excellent debut even more impressive.
“He played really well from what I understand, from what I’ve been told,” Bylsma said. “I got the game report after the game; it sounded like he was the best player on the ice.”
90 Ryan O’Reilly – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 22 Johan Larsson – 82 Marcus Foligno
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 88 Jamie McGinn/23 Sam Reinhart
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
45 Brendan Guhle – 65 Matt Donovan
31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen