Is it October yet?
Yes, but it’s still preseason, and a good test awaits the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday when they take on the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. It’s the preseason finale for the Wild, meaning that Minnesota will be using the game as a dress rehearsal for their regular-season opener.
Buffalo, meanwhile, still has one game left to play on Friday. With that in mind, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has elected to carry a lineup that is light on veterans so some players still vying for a spot on the NHL roster will have the chance to prove themselves against the Wild’s star players.
Minnesota’s lineup will include marquee names such as Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and former Sabres Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek.
Chad Johnson will make his final start of the preseason in net for Buffalo and play the full 60 minutes.
On defense, Jake McCabe and Chad Ruhwedel will both make their returns to the lineup after experiencing injuries that kept them out of practice in recent days.
Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call.
KALETA RETURNS WITH A LOT TO PROVE
Patrick Kaleta will also return to the Sabres lineup on Thursday after having not yet played in a preseason game due to a lower-body injury. He sustained the injury during the first weekend of camp.
The injury was especially unfortunate for Kaleta as he came into camp with hopes of earning a spot on the NHL roster. The nine-year veteran signed an AHL deal to play in Rochester on Sept. 12 and came to Sabres camp on a Professional Try-Out.
But while his camp has been limited to only a few days worth of skating with the team, Kaleta’s not willing to give up quite yet.
“Certain things happen like that in life, you’ve just got to deal with them and rebound from them and it builds character,” he said.
“The fat lady’s not singing yet; I still have an opportunity and I know one thing’s for sure is that I want it more than anyone else.”
Prior to his injury, Kaleta said that he had felt he was in the best shape he had ever been in to open a camp. He had impressed Bylsma with the way he played in the opening days of practice and scrimmages.
In the ensuing weeks, the coach saw how difficult it was for him to sit out.
“It’s getting hard for him to sit on the sidelines and get back to health before he can get in but he has been able to get back and practiced yesterday and he’s gonna have a great opportunity tonight to show what Pat can do,” Bylsma said.
In those early days of camp, Bylsma joked about still disliking Kaleta after years of playing against him while coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins. To Kaleta, those were positive remarks: he likes to get under the skins of opposing coaches and players. If he does that, he said, the rest of his teammates can worry about playing their own game.
On Thursday, Bylsma will find out what it’s like to have Kaleta on his side.
“I’m blessed with the opportunity to go out there in the game here tonight and show him that I can do the same thing for him and that he’ll like me,” Kaleta said.
ACT II FOR RISTO
After making his preseason debut Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is back in the lineup on Thursday.
In fact, Bylsma said that we can expect to see Ristolainen in each of the Sabres’ final two preseason games. The 20-year-old defenseman is still making up for the time he lost due to an upper-body injury that kept him out during the first part of camp.
Bylsma reiterated on Thursday how impressed with the defenseman’s talent thus far.
“Just getting him on the ice with the group, you see a big, strong, excellent-skating defenseman,” he said. “He’s at another level than a lot of what we had experienced so far in camp.”
Ristolainen said that he felt good physically against Toronto, and that statement was backed up by his team-leading 23:32 of ice time.
With that being said, he had only practiced with the team for one day prior to playing against Toronto. In the days since, he feels that he has made strides in understanding Bylsma’s system and gaining chemistry with his new teammates.
“I think I got a lot better than I played in the first one,” he said. “Tonight is a good test for us, a tough lineup for Minnesota so it’s going to be a good game.”
82 Marcus Foligno – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 36 Patrick Kaleta
88 Jamie McGinn – 22 Johan Larsson – 23 Sam Reinhart
71 Evan Rodrigues – 19 Cal O’Reilly – 20 Jason Akeson
48 William Carrier – 59 Tim Schaller – 37 Matt Ellis
55 Rasmus Ristolainen – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
29 Jake McCabe – 3 Mark Pysyk
65 Matt Donovan – 38 Jerome Leduc
31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen