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With Gorges out 'weeks,' Kulikov returns to practice

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

With one left-handed defenseman out for the foreseeable future in Josh Gorges, another returned to the ice for the Buffalo Sabres' practice at HarborCenter on Sunday morning. The returnee was Dmitry Kulikov, who skated with the team for the first time since Nov. 11 after missing the last 11 games with a lower-back injury.

Kulikov will not travel with the team for their game in Washington, D.C. on Monday and is day-to-day, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. With the Sabres set to host the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, Bylsma hinted that Kulikov's return might come after those back-to-back games. 

Video: Sabres in :90 (12/4/16)

Kulikov originally sustained his injury in training camp, forcing him to miss the season opener against Montreal on Oct. 13. He returned for Buffalo's second game in Edmonton on Oct. 16 and played 12 games, but said that the pain eventually began to affect his day-to-day life.

"It was just frustrating to wait," Kulikov said. "I didn't want to miss that much time but I wanted to get it better so it didn't affect me in the long run."

Video: KULIKOV: After Practice

Gorges, meanwhile, will miss weeks of ice time with a non-displaced fracture in his foot. He sustained the injury while blocking a shot during Buffalo's game against New York on Thursday and was a scratch against Boston on Saturday.

"It is non-displaced so that's a good thing," Bylsma said. "It should allow him to get back in his boot when he can tolerate the pain."

The good news for the Sabres is that so far, their replacements on defense had proven to be more than capable. Justin Falk said when he was recalled from Rochester that he wanted to provide a reliable veteran presence on the back end, and so far he's done just that. Falk has posted an even rating or better in his last seven games.

"My whole mindset stepping in was to try and get some quality minutes and be reliable," Falk said. "For my sake, I'm seeing some games here and just trying to go out there, play with confidence, play aggressive, assertive, and like I said, be that reliable guy back there."

Falk is one half of what's been a dependable duo for the Sabres in him and Taylor Fedun. The two were partners on the back end to begin the season in Rochester and were reunited when Fedun was recalled to replace an injured Zach Bogosian in the Buffalo lineup. 

"I think we complement each other really well," Falk said. "He's a good puck mover and shows poise and all that. I'm kind of the guy that's bigger and takes up space and tries to shut things down quickly in the corner so he can get the puck and get on the move and do what he does best."

Fedun was absent from practice on Sunday due to an injury he sustained in the third period against Boston and is questionable to play on Monday. If he is unable to go, Casey Nelson and Erik Burgdoerfer would be the likely candidates to join the Sabres on a recall.

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

In the meantime, Falk skated on a pair with Brendan Guhle at practice, the left-shot defenseman who joined the Sabres on an emergency basis out of junior hockey to replace Gorges in the lineup on Saturday. Guhle was exceptional in spite of his age (he's only 19), showing poise while tracking pucks in the defensive zone and putting his skating ability on display on both ends of the ice.

"To be totally honest, I wasn't really surprised at all," Falk said. "I saw him a few times at training camp there. When you can skate well and have a good hockey IQ then things don't seem to overwhelm you, and that's exactly what he can do."

By rule, Guhle must continue to play as long as he's on the team, which depends on the time it takes for enough players to return so that the Sabres are no longer in their emergency situation. But if the injury bug continues to bite, replacements like him and Falk have shown that the Sabres have the depth on defense to fill in. 


Lines at practice

48 William Carrier - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson

29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 6 Cody Franson
45 Brendan Guhle - 41 Justin Falk

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson

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