With Robin Lehner and Carlo Colaiacovo both on the shelf with injuries, a pair of fresh faces joined the Buffalo Sabres for an optional morning skate Friday at First Niagara Center. Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel was recalled to replace Colaiacovo against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, while Nathan Lieuwen was recalled to back up Chad Johnson in net.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday that Lehner's injury was a re-aggravation of the high ankle sprain that forced him to miss the first three months of his season. With that being said, Bylsma emphasized again on Friday that such tweaks were not unforeseen.
Bylsma said that at this point, the plan is not to shut Lehner down for the remainder of the season. Only 11 games are left on the schedule.
"That's not the thought process right now," Bylsma said. "The high ankle sprain is just one you deal with for a long time. I don't think at any one point in time he hasn’t been dealing with it since he's come back. Just with tweaking it in the game in Montreal [on March 10] and again last game, it's just going to give it a few days of rest and see how it goes from there."
Bylsma labeled Colaiacovo's lower-body injury as day-to-day at the most. In the meantime, Ruhwedel serves as the first defensive recall that the Sabres have made since they sent Jake McCabe down for one game in Rochester and recalled him on Oct. 12.
Ruhwedel, 25, has played 32 games with Buffalo since the 2012-13 season. He's scored 22 points (8+14) in 46 games with the Rochester Americans this season.
"I think the last, probably, three weeks for Chad have been good ones in terms of the type of defenseman he can be and providing offense," Bylsma said. "Had some injuries for Chad but, yes, the last three weeks have been a time where he's been able to provide that offense from the back end."
McCabe, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Mark Pysyk and most recently Cody Franson have all most various amounts of time due to injury for the Sabres this season, but the team had always had enough depth to fill those spots without changing their 23-man roster.
But with the current injury to Franson – who currently is not skating with a neck injury – and the trade of Mike Weber in February, the Sabres have been carrying six defensemen in recent weeks rather than the eight they've had most of the season.
"At the end of the day, the guy beats you out for a spot in training camp and you've got to work your way up for the rest of the season," Ruhwedel said.
In net, Bylsma said that Johnson will start back-to-back games against the Senators at home on Friday and then against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night. Johnson has won each of his last four starts in net and has been a consistent presence throughout a tumultuous season that has seen him thrust in and out of the starting job.
"I think there are definitely a different level that I've gotten to I think mentally and the approach of the game," Johnson said. "I think I've definitely grown a lot this year with just the maturity level and dealing with playing a lot and the pressures of that. I got a good opportunity this year and I thought I played well."
That maturity has also stood out to his coach.
"He's a true, true professional in his approach to the game, a true professional in how he approaches his craft and a true professionally in dealing with those ups and downs, the different emotional points of the season," Bylsma said.
Lieuwen, meanwhile, was initially recalled after Lehner injured his ankle in the season opener, but did not see game action at the NHL level. After serving as the backup for five games, Lieuwen was sent down in favor of Linus Ullmark once the latter had returned to full health (Ullmark was recovering from off-season surgery on both of his hips).
Lieuwen is 14-10-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 26 games with Rochester this season. He's played well enough since Ullmark was reassigned to Rochester to earn split playing time, as the two have formed a strong goaltending tandem for the Amerks as they make a playoff push.
"I think any time there's a new challenge or there's something new you've got to step up your game and you've got to be at your best," Lieuwen said. "I thought I did a good job of that."
The Sabres also have rookie goalie Jason Kasdorf, who signed an entry-level contract on Monday, but he has not yet skated due to a groin injury he sustained before his final collegiate start with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Coverage on Friday 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.
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
19 Cal O'Reilly – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
3 Mark Pysyk – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen