At home for the first time in over a week, the Buffalo Sabres practiced at First Niagara Center with two forwards they’ve been missing for quite some time. However, they also received some scary news about the health of another player.
Torrey Mitchell and captain Brian Gionta were on the ice with the team as they each work their way back from injury. Cody McCormick missed practice as he was hospitalized for a blood clot in his calf muscle.
Mitchell has missed 12 games after blocking a shot off his foot in a game on Dec. 15. He had been on a line with Brian Flynn and Gionta that was playing very well for the Sabres, using their speed and helping to shut down the opposition’s top lines.
Mitchell said he’s been feeling better for about a week now. He could be available for the team’s game Tuesday night against Detroit.
“It was frustrating. It seemed like it hurt the chemistry throughout the lineup,” Mitchell said. “We had some good chemistry on our line. We were playing well so hopefully we can get back to that.”
Marcus Foligno filled in for Mitchell for three games before he and Gionta were injured as the result of the same play on Dec. 21 in Boston. After Gionta took a big hit from Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski, Foligno jumped to his aid and broke his hand in a fight with Bartkowski.
Gionta sustained an upper-body injury and they’ve both been out ever since. Foligno will miss about two months while Gionta said on Sunday that while he won’t be ready to go Tuesday night, he is getting closer.
Buffalo just wrapped up a road trip in which they went 0-4-0 and are currently on a 1-10-1 slide. They’ve lost seven in a row. Prior to that stretch, they had won 10 of 13.
“It’s tough. When you’re on the outside, those guys are in the trenches doing it. You can only put input so much,” Gionta said. “It’s obviously a tough stretch and we’ve got to find a way to dig ourselves out of it. It would be nice to get back as soon as I can.”
To have veterans like Mitchell and Gionta back around the team can help calm the team down during difficult times.
“It’s a world of difference, especially a guy like Gionta, who had so much experience in this League and his leadership qualities and his presence. I don’t know how you measure that,” Nolan said. “But certainly when you’re home and your mom and dad are sitting right with you, you feel comfortable. And it’s the same thing with Gionta. When he’s on the ice, our team feels comfortable.”
Chris Stewart and Mike Weber were also absent from practice.
On McCormick's injury, Nolan said it’s serious enough that McCormick is still in the hospital and he could be out for awhile.
“We’re just glad we caught it and he’s getting medical care right now,” Nolan said.
Weber was given a maintenance day and Stewart has come down with a touch of the flu, so the Sabres could need some healthy bodies from the American Hockey League for Tuesday.
The Rochester Americans are also dealing with their share of injuries. Philip Varone and Mikhail Grigorenko were sent back to Rochester on Saturday so that they could give the Amerks a boost. Playing Saturday night meant three games in three nights for them.
Nolan had a chat with Sabres general manager Tim Murray on the bench during practice. They both then left for about 10 minutes to meet about options for the lineup. Nolan said they’ll continue to talk later today.
“This time of the year, it’s really tough on everyone in the whole organization. It’s not just here,” Nolan said.
Nolan also had a productive talk with alternate captain Josh Gorges as practice wrapped up. The two conversed on the ice for about a half hour. A lot of the discussion revolved around how to approach the game.
“We’re looking for solutions. Obviously when things aren’t going the right way, you’ve got to find ways to get the ship corrected,” Gorges said. “And it’s part of my job as a leader on this team to try to get things changed, try to get things going in the right direction. I’m not afraid to ask for help, ask for advice.
“Teddy, with his experience and everything he’s been through and dealt with, he’s a perfect guy to go to see what I can do more. What do I have to do different? What should we try to look for as a group? All the little things that are just going to try to make this team better.”
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta – 36 Patrick Kaleta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 21 Drew Stafford – 19 Cody Hodgson
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers – 41 Andrej Meszaros
61 Andre Benoit – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
51 Nikita Zadorov – 24 Tyson Strachan
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Did Not Practice: 6 Mike Weber (maintenance day), 8 Cody McCormick (blood clot), 80 Chris Stewart (flu), 82 Marcus Foligno (injured reserve, hand)