It was a positive Sunday morning at HARBORCENTER for the Buffalo Sabres, who saw progress made – albeit in varying amounts – for three of their injured players in their final practice before the All-Star break.
Zemgus Girgensons and Josh Gorges, listed as day-to-day, participated in the full practice and will travel with the team for back-to-back games at New York and Ottawa on Monday and Tuesday. Nicolas Deslauriers, meanwhile, sported a red non-contact jersey as he skated with the team for the first time since Jan. 2.
Girgensons has missed three games since a collision with Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller caused him leave with a lower-body injury in the first period against Boston on Jan. 15. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that he's likely to play against the Rangers on Monday.
"That's correct, yeah," Bylsma said. "He skated yesterday and did well and had his full return to practice today. Hopefully that means he's in tomorrow."
Monday's game at Madison Square Garden is slated to start at 7:30 p.m. and can be seen nationally on NBCSN and heard on WGR 550.
Girgensons skated on a line Sunday with Matt Moulson and Jack Eichel, the latter of which he was linemates with in the games leading up to his injury. Bylsma said that in reuniting Eichel and Girgensons, he hopes to rekindle their offensive success.
"If we look back to the Washington series, the two games against Washington [on Jan. 28 and 30], they were playing with Brian [Gionta] at the time but they were generating quite a bit of offense," Bylsma said. "They scored some goals, Zemgus was generating quite a bit more offense than he had and that’s what we hope for putting them back together."
While he didn't make any guarantees, Bylsma also said that he there is potential that Gorges could also play on the road trip. Gorges returned from a two-game absence against Colorado on Wednesday but re-aggravated his upper-body injury and missed the game against Detroit on Friday.
Deslauriers, meanwhile, has missed nine games since sustaining a lower-body injury against the Red Wings on Jan. 2. The timetable for his return was originally 3-5 weeks, and his progress suggests that he might be able to return to full practices when the Sabres return from the break. After Tuesday's game at Ottawa, the Sabres won't play again until Feb. 3 in Montreal.
"He's a day away from three weeks right now," Bylsma said. "We'll see him continue to skate on his own and return to practice possibly after the break."
PRIDE IN THE PENALTY KILL
Upon Tim Schaller's recall on Jan. 4, Bylsma went so far as to say that he could one day see the undrafted forward one day becoming the top penalty killer in the Sabres' organization. Now nearly a month later, he's shown why.
Schaller has been a consistent cog in the machine for a red-hot Buffalo penalty kill that hasn't allowed a goal in six games. Since his return to the lineup against Florida on Jan. 5, the team has allowed just one power-play goal on 22 attempts. They're perfect in their past 19 opportunities and they've also killed double-minor penalties in three straight games.
"Tim's best part of his game is his penalty killing ability," Bylsma said. "We've tested him too much, we've had those four-minute double minors that we've had to kill off and he's done a good job at doing that. He's also stepped into the circle and won some draws, especially in Colorado winning some draws on the penalty kill that makes us [effective]."
"I'm out there for energy," Schaller said. "If there's a loose puck I expect to be the first one there and things like that. If I can be a pest out there and always be in the way then I'm doing my job."
Schaller, 25, has continued to develop more an offensive game to complement his reputation for being a strong defensive forward. But coming into the League undrafted and being a role player at various levels, he said, excelling at little things like the penalty kill became a necessity for him – and he enjoys doing it.
"I take a lot of pride in it," Schaller said. "As a fourth-line guy, the penalty kill will be a lot of your minutes on some of the nights. If we get a couple of penalties then I look forward to that – hopefully we don’t –but for me, I get a little excited and doing my job out there is pretty fun."
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 88 Jamie McGinn
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 15 Jack Eichel – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
84 Philip Varone/19 Cal O'Reilly – 59 Tim Schaller – 17 David Legwand
44 Nicolas Deslauriers
47 Zach Bogosian – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 46 Cody Franson
6 Mike Weber – 3 Mark Pysyk
4 Josh Gorges – 25 Carlo Colaiacovo
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson