Wednesday was a bit of a mixed bag for Jake McCabe. On one hand, he was named the Buffalo Sabres' Unsung Hero for the season, a recognition that takes on more meaning when you consider it was voted upon by his teammates.
Placing a cloud over that award, however, was the realization that McCabe would sit as a healthy in that night's game against Montreal, a decision that was preceded by back-to-back losses in which he committed defensive-zone turnovers that led directly to goals against.
Following Buffalo's final practice of the season on Friday, McCabe said he understood why the decision was made.
"It was one of those times where I had a little bit of a confidence issue and I wasn't performing," he said. "We've got guys in this lineup that can perform. If you're not going to perform you're not going to play, that's what it came down to."
"The conversation with Jake, he knew exactly the last couple games where he's been at and where he's playing at," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "There's no shying away from it."
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
But while the benching was the product of two tough outings, the recognition as Unsung Hero was a testament to what McCabe's meant to the Sabres over an entire season's worth of games. He's a guy who, in his second NHL season, has often played on Buffalo's top pair while also contributing to both the power play and the penalty kill. His 113 blocked shots rank second on the team.
"Jake's a big part of our team," Bylsma said. "Jake's a big part of our team going forward. He's played that way this year. We need him to step up and be a leader on our team. I think getting the award is a sign of that and a symbol of that."
McCabe, for his part, said he knows his role on the team and simply tries to bring it every day. Part of that is on the ice, but it's off the ice as well. Even back at training camp in September, Bylsma pointed McCabe out as a guy who, at age 23, was already standing out as one of the team's leaders.
"I try to play a hard game. I try to play physical," McCabe said. "I try to play for my teammates and with saying that, as a young guy, I think as I can continue to grow here. I want to take more of a leadership role on this team and a lot of us do.
"A lot of us have to look at ourselves in the mirror and take a little extra step forward and as a whole group. Going into next year and just finishing this year, we need to just be accountable for each other and have each other's backs and just keep going forward."
Guhle assigned to Rochester
With his junior season in Prince George having come to an end on Monday, the Sabres reassigned defenseman Brendan Guhle to Rochester on Friday morning. Guhle previously joined the Amerks for six games to end last season, during which he scored a goal and three assists.
The 19-year-old defenseman also impressed in a brief showing at the NHL level this season. He played three games for the Sabres as an emergency recall back in December, averaging 16:21 of ice time.
Marcus Foligno, who left the game on Wednesday with a knee injury, did not practice and will not travel with the team for their final two games in Florida. He ends his season having matched his career high with 23 points (13+10). He set a new career high with 279 hits in 80 games, surpassing his previous mark of 206 set in 2013-14.
With Foligno absent, here's a full look at the Sabres' lineup at practice.
9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
70 Alexander Nylander - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 63 Tyler Ennis
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 48 William Carrier/49 C.J. Smith
Defensemen: 77 Dmitry Kulikov, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 4 Josh Gorges, 41 Justin Falk, 47 Zach Bogosian, 6 Cody Franson, 29 Jake McCabe
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson