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As more injuries hit, Ristolainen sees more ice time

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak / Sabres.com

The Buffalo Sabres have seen their share of injuries on the blue line this season. They've been in situations where they've needed multiple emergency recalls and it looks like that's the case once again.

Buffalo practiced with four defensemen at HarborCenter on Sunday before flying out to Detroit for a Monday night game against the Red Wings. Cody Franson, Taylor Fedun, Justin Falk and Dmitry Kulikov were all absent from the skate due to injury. While coach Dan Bylsma declared each player "day to day," it's unlikely that any of them will play in Detroit.

So Rasmus Ristolainen, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian will very well likely be joined by two new faces from Rochester. The Amerks had back-to-back games in St. John's, Newfoundland this weekend. 

With both Fedun and Franson sustaining injuries during Friday night's 2-1 shootout win in Anaheim, the Sabres, at some points of the game, were down to three available defensemen.

"We got pretty taxed in that game and now we're stretching it thin. We're going to be calling up some guys to play in Detroit," Bylsma said. "We're in need of some defensemen right now and the Americans are traveling from St. John's today. They'll be landing at 4 o'clock in Toronto this afternoon." 

Casey Nelson, Erik Burgdoerfer and Mat Bodie are among the cadidates for a recall.

The burden of playing heavy minutes has been placed Ristolainen all season and the team will likely lean on him even more because of the recent crop of injuries. 

He's topped the 30-minute plateau twice in the past four games, skating 30:02 on Friday. He's been at or above 30 minutes eight times this season, with his highest total coming on Jan. 20 against Detroit, when he played 35:24.

At 27:01, he's fourth in the NHL in average time on ice per game, behind only Dustin Byfuglien (27:24), Drew Doughty (27:16) and Ryan Suter (27:04). 

"The workload is fine, it doesn't feel too much," Ristolainen said. "I didn't like my games in California so I've got to be better and we have another chance tomorrow night."

While Bylsma would ideally like to keep Ristolainen at around the 25-minute mark, circumstances haven't quite allowed for it.

"The problem with Rasmus playing 30 minutes is that he just plays them so hard and so physical. He's all in when he plays 30 minutes like that. That's tough for anybody to do," Bylsma said. 

"There are some guys who play that much in their careers and tend to manage it a little bit better than Rasmus. Rasmus is just giving you everything he's got. If he's out there for two minutes for a shift, he will give you everything he has at the end of that two minutes."  

Through 72 games, he's already set career highs in assists (38) and points (43) and power-play points (24). 

Gorges has frequently been Ristolainen's defensive partner over the past three seasons and has been impressed with the maturation he's seen in Ristolainen as a player.

"From stepping in here two-and-a-half years ago - whatever it's been - you knew his skill level, you knew his ability to play the game. But as a young player, he just needed to develop mentally: How to handle himself, how to be a professional, how to know to be great night in and night out, his consistency," Gorges said. 

"I think he's taken on that challenge of being a No. 1 guy on our team and a top player across the league. He wants that and I think that's been his biggest thing - his ability to go every night against the best players in all situations, log the minutes he's done."

And if you somehow missed it, Ristolainen pulled off this dazzling move in the ninth round of the shootout Friday night:

Video: BUF@ANA: Ristolainen shines in SO with gorgeous move

What's been the reaction to it and will it influence Bylsma's shootout strategy moving forward? Brian Duff has more on all that in today's Sabres in :90:

Video: Sabres in :90 (03/19/17)


Sunday's lines and pairings

90 Ryan O'Reilly - 15 Jack Eichel - 63 Tyler Ennis 
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta 
26 Matt Moulson / 44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 23 Sam Reinhart - 56 Justin Bailey 
82 Marcus Foligno - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 52 Hudson Fasching 

4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen 
29 Jake McCabe - 47 Zach Bogosian 

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson

Tomorrow night's game can be seen on NBCSN starting at 7:30 p.m. It'll be Buffalo's final game at Joe Louis Arena. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the radio call on WGR 550. 

We'll have full pre and postgame coverage for you at Sabres.com from Detroit, starting with tomorrow's Morning Skate Report. 

 

 

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