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Gorges, Deslauriers return to practice

Kulikov a possibility for Friday; Gionta contributing steadily on both ends

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Given the fact that Dmitry Kulikov already practiced with the team earlier in the week and had been described as day-to-day with his lower-back injury, it was of little surprise to see him back on the ice with the Buffalo Sabres at their practice on Thursday morning.

The same definitely couldn't be said of Josh Gorges.

Just four days after it was announced Gorges would likely miss weeks due to a non-displaced fracture in his foot, the defenseman was a full participant in practice with the Sabres on Thursday. Forward Nicolas Deslauriers also practiced for the first time since sustaining a knee injury that has forced him to miss 19 games since Oct. 30. 

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that Kulikov and Gorges are both possibilities to rejoin the lineup when the team hosts Washington at KeyBank Center on Friday night. He said that Deslauriers is "close" to being game-ready, but added that he had not yet seen a post-practice report. 

Gorges expressed optimism when asked about playing on Friday.

"I feel like I could," he said. "I guess we'll reevaluate things today and tomorrow morning, talk to doctors and the medical staff and get a better idea of whether that's possible or not."

Video: GORGES: After Practice

Gorges sustained his injury while blocking on a shot against Boston on Saturday. Despite the "weeks" timeframe, Bylsma said the fact that the fracture was non-displaced meant his return to skating would depend primarily on pain tolerance. For a player with a reputation for blocking shots by any means necessary, perhaps it's not a surprise that pain tolerance isn't as much of an issue as expected.

"When I gave you the prognosis, I said it was a pain tolerance thing," Bylsma said. "He's revisited the doctor postgame, [after] the Edmonton game [on Tuesday], and they're happy with where he's at and now it's just a pain tolerance thing for him. He skated yesterday and skated without pain and that led to practice today … We'll see what that means for tomorrow, but it's a possibility."

Deslauriers said he's skated nine times over the past 10 days and was also optimistic about his readiness for Friday. 

"It's Dan's decision," he said. "Whatever happens tomorrow, I'll be ready. And if not, next game's probably going to be a better option."

Video: DESLAURIERS: After Practice

In the event that Kulikov and Gorges both return, it would likely spell an end to Brendan Guhle's tenure with the team this season. Guhle was recalled from his junior team in Prince George on an emergency basis and thus would have to return once the emergency situation is relieved, which in this case is the absence of two left-shot defensemen. 

Guhle, 19, has impressed with his skating ability and poise on the back end in his three NHL games. He's averaged 16:21 of ice time in games against Boston, Washington and Edmonton while going head to head with some of the most talented players in the League in Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid.

"I don't know what I totally expected given the circumstances, given who he was playing against," Bylsma said. "You kind of look to see how anyone's going to do against Ovechkin, against McDavid's speed, and he did a pretty good job of it, a pretty remarkable job for a young kid to step in. Defending-wise, skating-wise, he's looked cool and calm on the ice with the puck and I thought he's done a real good job stepping in."

Coverage of the game between the Sabres and Capitals on Friday begins with the TOPS Pregame Show at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B. 


Gionta offering consistent offense

Brian Gionta's goal against Edmonton on Tuesday was his sixth in 26 games this season, meaning he's already halfway to his 79-game total from last season. In fact, as injuries have hampered the Sabres forward group in the early going this season, Gionta has been one of the team's most consistent contributors. 

According to, Gionta leads the team in goals per 60 (1.07) and assists per 60 (0.89). The former number ranks 39th in the NHL. 

"It's about helping the team," Gionta said. "It's about doing something that helps the team win. Sometimes it's a goal, sometimes it's about shutting down [other team's] top lines. That's how I measure how the season is going."

That willingness to help the team in any way possible is evident in the fact that the majority of his shifts begin outside the offensive zone. In fact, 45.87 percent of the faceoffs that have been taken when Gionta is on the ice during 5-on-5 situations have come in the defensive zone, a number that ranks ninth in the League.

That tendency to start in the defensive zone signals a change in Gionta's role from years past. His 17.66 offensive-zone faceoff percentage this season is a career low, and he was often over 30 percent in that category with New Jersey and in his first few years with Montreal. Even last season, when he joined Marcus Foligno and Johan Larsson to form the Sabres' checking line, he was still taking 25.46 percent of his faceoffs in the offensive zone.

What hasn't changed is his team-first approach, which is why he's been able to adapt to find success in his new role. In spite of the matchups against opposing team's top players and the defensive-zone starts, he's currently on pace to score 18 goals over the course 82 games. At age 38, that would be his highest mark since 2013-14.

"The biggest thing with him is he hasn't changed," said Gorges, who has been Gionta's teammate since the 2009-10 season when they played for Montreal. "He's always been - and I think that's why he's always had success - is he's a true professional. He does what he needs to do to be successful, he does what he needs to do for the team to be successful. He's a guy that, and I've said this before, young guys should look at and watch and know, this is how you have success for a long time in the NHL."


Burgdoerfer reassigned to Rochester

The Sabres announced that the team has reassigned defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer to Rochester on Thursday afternoon. Burgdoerfer averaged 11:10 of ice time in two games filling in for Taylor Fedun on the back end. 

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