With only five games remaining, the Buffalo Sabres have now ruled out two key contributors for the remainder of the season. Goalie Robin Lehner underwent successful surgery on his right ankle on Wednesday while forward Evander Kane's upper-body injury will take at least two weeks to heal.
Kane, 24, finishes his first season in Buffalo with 35 points (20+15) in 65 games. He sustained an upper-body injury in the second period in Detroit on Monday and did not return for the third. He did not play the following night in Pittsburgh. He also missed 10 games earlier in the season with a knee injury.
Lehner, meanwhile, needed surgery after tweaking the high ankle sprain he sustained on opening night, which forced him to miss 42 games. He returned to play 21 games in total, going 5-9-5 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average.
"I think the word with the injury and the nature of the injury is 'instability,'" Bylsma said of Lehner. "It's not a break. The nature of the injury as we've said all along is you deal with a high ankle sprain months after you come back.
"You tweak it, you go through those and the last two weeks for Robin probably had a tweak in a game that was a little bit more significant than the ones he'd been feeling and then came back and kind of had the same feeling about seven days later in a game."
Bylsma said that surgery was not discussed at the original time of the injury with rehabilitation having become the common form of treatment for high ankle sprains. He also said that if the team were fighting for a playoff spot, there is a possibility Lehner would still be playing now.
"I can't say that for sure, but yeah. It might have been the case if we were in a different spot, fighting for the playoffs," Bylsma said.
Lehner's surgery will sideline him for approximately four weeks before he can begin rehabbing. He should be back to his normal workout and conditioning schedule after six weeks, which will give him nearly a full summer to prepare for next season.
Lehner was sidelined for the majority of the summer entering this season due to a concussion that ended his season with Ottawa in February of last year.
"The first week in August is when he really started to get back to working out," Bylsma said. "That's not ideal for Robin, that's not ideal for where he was at that point in time and I think fortunately in this case, that won't be the case for him this time and through this injury."
UPDATE ON TYLER ENNIS
Bylsma was not yet ready to rule out the forward, who's been absent since Dec. 30 with a concussion, for a potential return to practice by season's end.
"We're not officially doing that, no," Bylsma said. "He is improving and he's gone through on-ice and off-ice workouts and improving, still have hope to see the possibility of getting him in practice … We'd like that to happen."
Ennis has 11 points (3+8) in 23 games this season. He led the team in scoring last year with 20 goals and 46 points.
FACING THE MAPLE LEAFS
With Lehner and Kane's seasons over, the rest of the Sabres will turn their attention to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night. The Sabres were disappointed in their effort last time out against the Maple Leafs, a 4-1 loss in Toronto.
"We've got to come out with a better effort tonight," forward Marcus Foligno said. "We have to beat this team … We're going to be coming out of the gates hot and I think for a full 60 we've got to really put it together."
The Maple Leafs have looked different each of the three times the Sabres have seen them this season. The roster Buffalo saw when they met in October was decimated at the Trade Deadline, and various roster moves preceded both of their meetings thus far in March.
Their fourth meeting will be no different, with the Maple Leafs having recalled forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Tobias Lindberg and defensemen Andrew Campbell and T.J. Brennan from the American Hockey League on Thursday morning.
"They had different guys when we played them the last two games, guys who were called up from the AHL," Foligno said. "Whoever's called up is going to try and make a name for themselves and work hard … I think that's where our chemistry comes in. We've got to really just slow the game down. They're a team that works hard so we're going to have to counter that."
Nazem Kadri leads the Maple Leafs with 44 points (17+27) this season while P.A. Parenteau ranks second with 38 (19+19). Rookie William Nylander, the eighth pick in the 2014 Draft, has seven points (4+3) in 16 games since making his NHL debut on Feb. 29.
Rookie Garret Sparks, who has started twice against Buffalo in March, is expected to start again for Toronto. He'll oppose Chad Johnson, who has started all six games for Buffalo since Lehner's injury. Johnson is seeking his career-high 20th win of the season.
Coverage 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.
After beginning the game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday on a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly will be back at his normal position of center on Thursday. Bylsma said he moved O'Reilly back to center in the third period against the Penguins due to the lack of success for the line of Nicolas Deslauriers, Zemgus Girgensons and Hudson Fasching.
"I just didn't like what was happening on the road with that line in particular. We spent four shifts in the defensive zone for extended periods of time with Zemgus and Deslauriers and Fasching," Bylsma said. "I think it balanced out our lines a little bit better for us in that game and we'll continue with that in tonight's game."
Here's how the lines will shape up on Thursday:
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 52 Hudson Fasching
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 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 – 34 Casey Nelson
31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen