SAINT PAUL - Two bits of good news regarding the Buffalo Sabres' defense came from the team's practice on Monday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.
There was the sight of Jake McCabe, who skated a full practice with the team after missing the last eight minutes of their game on Sunday with a lower-body injury. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that McCabe is "probable" to play Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild.
There was also the presence of Mark Pysyk, who didn't practice but – on his 24th birthday – was officially recalled from a three-game conditioning assignment with the Rochester Americans. Pysyk hasn't played an NHL game since Nov. 17, missing nearly two months with a lower-body injury.
"It was good to get back into game action finally," Pysyk said. "Everything was good and I felt better as the weekend went on."
Bylsma did not confirm whether or not Pysyk will play against the Wild –the team has eight defensemen with him on the roster – but the coach did speak on what it means to finally have him back in the loop.
"I think – along the lines of Jake McCabe with his skating ability and his feet – he defends and he's hard to play against because of his skating ability," Bylsma said. "He can close and have a tight gap and also will box out and move pucks the other way with his skating ability and support our rush up the ice."
Not having Pysyk's talents on the ice, Bylsma said, has shown in the team's ability to possess the puck.
"I know some of the numbers and statistics that our team had when Mark was in the lineup," he said. "Our best possession game coincides with Mark being in the lineup so I think we've been decent in possession, we've been around 50 percent, around average in the League, but I know the numbers with Mark were a lot better."
Pysyk played three games in Rochester, earning an assist on a power-play goal against the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday.
"I was trying to do obviously the same thing, defend hard and quickly," he said. "Get the guys out of the zone and make a good first pass. That’s what I like to do and hopefully I can do that when I get back here."
Coverage on Tuesday night begins at 7:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with puck drop set for 8 p.m.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
For a brief moment on Sunday, the only sound you could hear at MTS Centre was that of Marcus Foligno's body hitting hard against the boards. The Sabres forward had jumped into the glass in celebration of his third goal of the season, which gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead four minutes into the third period.
"It was like a playoff atmosphere," Foligno said. "A lot of guys were talking about Winnipeg, how they are with the fans and how they get into it. It's fun to shut down fans."
With five players playing against their former teams and Sam Reinhart scoring a hat trick, Foligno's goal might have been a bit overlooked. But not only did it stand as the game-winner, it also set up the empty-net situation that allowed Reinhart to tally his third of the game.
To get the goal, Foligno had to be in the right place at the right time. McCabe began the play with a takeaway in the neutral zone and moved the puck up to Brian Gionta. Gionta's shot produced a long rebound to the left circle where Foligno, with Blake Wheeler hot on his tail, was able to fire a quick shot for the score.
"I just thought about getting it on net as fast as I could," he said. "It was a pretty big rebound. I know that [someone] was closing in on me too so you just kind of, I saw a huge open net so I just thought, 'I just better bear down and try to rip this one on net.' It worked out."
It was a fitting way to win the team's 42nd game of the season. Looking back at the first half, Foligno said, the players realized that receiving offensive contributions from their lower lines might have made the difference in a lot of the one-goal losses they've endured. He did his part to flip that script on Sunday.
"I think the biggest thing is we've lost a lot of one-goal games," he said. "We looked at it as, 'we need second and third scoring on this team.' That's the thing we wanted to change in 2016 is we've got to start with everyone contributing. Defensemen and third and fourth liners have to contribute, that’s going to make us a more complete hockey team."
Pysyk is back, but one player still remains in the midst of a conditioning assignment in Rochester. Robin Lehner made his second start in net for the Amerks against Syracuse on Sunday, allowing two goals on 22 shots in a 2-1 loss.
Afterward, Lehner spoke about the progress he's made over the course of the weekend.
"It's helped tremendously," he said. "I feel like there are a lot of positives and there are a few things I've got to work on, and that was nothing I didn’t expect coming down here. This is a great league, I've played in this league for a few years and it's not like you're going to come down here and it's going to be easy."
Lehner will remain in Rochester through Wednesday, although it has not yet been announced as to whether or not he'll start for the Amerks that night in Albany. Bylsma said on Sunday that the hope for Lehner is that he'll be able to return to the Sabres for this weekend's games.
Buffalo hosts Boston on Friday night and Washington on Saturday.