A bit of uncertainty will shroud the Buffalo Sabres' lineup entering their game against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. We know Marcus Foligno will play after missing the last game with an upper-body injury; we also know Zemgus Girgensons is out with an injury to his lower body.
What we don't know is whether or not Johan Larsson, who was hurt at the team's morning skate on Tuesday, will be able to go come 7 p.m. If he's not, the Sabres could call up a forward from Rochester or proceed with dressing seven defensemen.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that both options remain possibilities, adding that minute distribution among seven defensemen can make for a less-than-ideal situation. Just because seven defensemen dress, however, it doesn’t mean they'll all be playing on the blue line.
"Most of when I've played seven D, it's been seven D and not playing the D at forward," Bylsma said, estimating that he's done it roughly 30 times in his coaching career. "If it happens tonight where we use seven D, the D will probably play some forward so it will be a little bit different."
Foligno's return coinciding with Girgensons' injury is particularly unfortunate given the comfort they felt playing as linemates with Jack Eichel for two games after the All-Star break, during which Foligno scored his fourth goal of the season.
"[I have to] stay the same way," Foligno said. "If I do try to change myself, that's when things start to get a bit iffy out there. I've just got to be a simply hockey player, I mean you're playing with a heck of a hockey player in Jack.
"I've got to be good on the forecheck, make sure I'm getting my linemates the puck and getting to the front of the net but also making sure I'm shooting as much as I can too."
Bylsma expressed hope on Monday that Girgensons' injury wouldn't require him to miss any games, but Girgensons hadn't progressed enough come Tuesday morning for him to participate in the morning skate.
"It's a matter of having strength," Bylsma said. "[We] just don’t want to chance it with where he's at."
The Sabres enter Tuesday winless in their last two games but also riding a four-game point streak. They dropped a 3-2 contest to the Bruins in a shootout on Thursday then lost again to Boston on Saturday, this time as the result of a controversial call in overtime that led to a game-winning penalty shot for Brad Marchand.
While taking six points in their last four games hasn't quite served as a consolation for wins in the minds of the players, they emphasized the importance of having a short memory come Tuesday night.
"You never want to lose that way but we showed a lot of character in the room, the boys played hard," Jamie McGinn said. "We have a tough opponent coming in tonight in Florida so we have to let that game go, be ready to go tonight right from the first puck drop and show that we're ready."
LEHNER IN NET
Robin Lehner will make his second-straight start in net after making 36 saves in the loss to Boston on Saturday. In six games since returning from a high ankle sprain, Lehner is 2-3-1 with an impressive .940 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against average.
"I know what it's like to come off of injury and it does take some time," McGinn, who spent a majority of last season recovering from back surgery, said. "The way he's competed day-in and day-out, it amazes me. He works hard and he wants to win. He's a competitor. I love that in Robin and when you have that in a goalie, you know the future is really bright."
CAT'S SECOND ACT
Girgensons' absence from the lineup opens the door for Daniel Catenacci to play his second NHL game. He made his debut against the Bruins on Saturday, tallying two shots in 7:42 of ice time. Bylsma said Tuesday that he believes the rookie has more to offer.
"I'd like to see him really be a factor with his speed and being a hound," Bylsma said. "I thought he skated OK. He did get on the forecheck, he did buzz. I thought he could still be a bigger factor with using his feet and using his speed."
PANTHERS ALSO DEALING WITH INJURIES
Namely, Florida will be out with top centerman Aleksander Barkov on Tuesday after Barkov sustained an upper-body injury on a hit from the Detroit Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader on Monday. Barkov, 20, is tied for third on the Panthers with 35 points (16+19) this season.
"Well, you're talking about a very good centerman," Bylsma said. "He's turning himself into one of the better centermen in the League, so he's a big part of their team. Their power play has to adjust as well; they're power play has been red hot against us largely because of him and him working in the middle there."
The Sabres and Panthers are meeting for the final time this season; the two teams split contests in Florida in October and November while the Panthers claimed their most recent matchup by a score of 5-1 in Buffalo on Jan. 5.
Florida has dropped two games in a row, but remains atop the Atlantic Division with a six-point cushion. Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau lead the team with 37 points each while Jussi Jokinen is tied with Barkov's 35 points.
"They play well as a team," McGinn said. "They're always in every game and they're producing right now over there. Jagr never seems to slow down and he controls the play and we remember our game last time … We want to have a better result tonight and show that we're ready to play."
O'REILLY VS. REINHART
Linemates turn rivals on Tuesday night when Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart square off for the final first-round matchup of Sabres Showdown, which will air between periods on MSG. You can find the full bracket and watch previous matchups here.
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.