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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
While most of the Sabres were off on Wednesday, the team’s collection of injured players took the ice together for a workout.

(Photo: Getty Images)
Ryan Miller (upper body), Jordan Leopold (hand), Mike Grier (knee), Patrick Kaleta (bone bruise in leg) and Derek Roy (quad) spent about an hour on the ice as each player attempts to come back from injury.  Shaone Morrisonn, who has been a healthy scratch of late, also took part in the workout.

With each player at a different stage of his recovery process, Head Coach Lindy Ruff was able to give individual status updates, beginning with his goaltender.

“Ryan is just taking a normal amount of shots. It will be a full practice for him tomorrow,” Ruff said while not committing to an exact return date for Miller.  “I think it’s best to get him in drills, get him involved in some of the real busy stuff in tomorrow’s practice, then see where he’s at, have a conversation with him… The smart thing to do is get him through practice tomorrow and just see where he’s at.”

From Miller’s perspective, the condition of his upper body injury is improving and he’s looking forward to taking part in a full practice with the team on Thursday.  On Wednesday, several of the skaters helped put Miller through goaltending drills that focused on rebound control and positioning.

“I felt good today. Another good step forward and got a good workout in to follow up yesterday’s workout and we’ll just kind of go from there. I’ll get on the ice with the boys tomorrow and see what Lindy has to say and what the doctors have to say. I think there’s still some talking we have to do in that regard,” he said.  “I’d like to be available (for upcoming games) but I want to go by how the trainers, doctors, coaches and everybody feels.”

Miller added that he wants to make smart decisions rather than rushing back to the lineup.  He last played in Buffalo’s 4-3 loss at Toronto on March 29.

Leopold injured his hand in the March 25 game against Florida, but went on to score a goal later in the game.  He credited his ability to keep playing to adrenaline, but has not played since that game. 

“I knew something was going on during the game, but I just ended up taping it up and played with it. It’s one of those weird things where adrenaline takes care of some pain for you,” he explained.

The defenseman, who has set career-highs in goals (13) and points (35) this season, received good news earlier this week when his recovery process took an unexpected turn.

Leopold said he was supposed to have surgery on the injured hand last Monday, but ended up developing pneumonia, which delayed the procedure for a week.  When he went back for X-Rays, the injury had improved enough to the point where surgery would no longer be necessary.  Because of the development, his timetable for return is roughly “four weeks, maybe a little bit plus, from the onset of injury,” according to Leopold.

Although he is currently unable to handle a puck with both hands on his stick, Leopold plans to continue skating in order to keep his legs in shape for when he is eventually able to play again.

“That’s why I’m out skating. I’m not looking to impress anybody with any puck handling skills, but just to keep my legs.  It’s one of those things, if you look to play in a few weeks, I’ve gotta have my legs in shape, and the only way to do that really is to go out there and skate.” 

Of the injured players who worked out on Wednesday, the closest to a return is Patrick Kaleta, who has been cleared physically to play.  Now, it’s only a matter of when he’ll return.

“I’m going to prepare myself in a way that I’m ready for Friday.  It’s up to the coaching staff, but I’m obviously going to do my part in being prepared and being ready to go,” Kaleta said.

Kaleta has not played since March 6 in Minnesota when he blocked a slap shot at the end of the second period in Buffalo’s 3-2 overtime win and suffered a severe bone bruise on his leg.

Grier has missed the last five games after aggravating his knee during the March 26 game against New Jersey.  While the forward was not initially expected to miss much time, he has struggled to improve enough to get back into the lineup, but had a “better day today” according to Ruff.

Of all the players who skated on Wednesday, perhaps the most intriguing case is Roy, who was leading the Sabres in scoring with 35 points in 35 games when on Dec. 23 he suffered a torn quad tendon that required surgery.  He’s now back to skating, but Ruff said it’s “tough to forecast” his return and it will still take time for the centerman to regain the strength in his quad that is so vital to hockey players and reach the appropriate fitness level.

“We’ve said that sometime in May would be his return, but there’s no definite number etched in there,” said Ruff.  “You’ll see him involved in practice soon in a no-contact sense.  He’ll be back in the drills, but again, we have a ways to go in the fitness level.”
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