For some players on the Buffalo Sabres, their five-day break for the All-Star Game was a much-needed opportunity to rest in preparation of the season's final stretch of games. For others, like Nicolas Deslauriers and Sam Reinhart, it was extra time to work towards returning to full health.
In either event, the break paid off. The team looked fresh and ready for an afternoon practice at HARBORCENTER on Monday. They also looked undoubtedly healthier than they did five days ago as Deslauriers, Reinhart and Josh Gorges all returned to the ice.
All three players missed varying amounts of time due to injuries before the break, with Deslauriers having taken the longest to heal. He sustained a lower-body while blocking a shot on Jan. 2 and has missed 11 games since.
"Just after the first week, I think I was already getting gray hairs almost," Deslauriers said. "I'm the kind of guy who likes to play and practice, just to stay as long as possible so it was awkward. [It was] my first time being out that long and I didn't like it."
Deslauriers skated every day over the break, even while on vacation in Lake Placid. He was a full-go at practice on Monday and it will be decided after practice on Tuesday whether or not he'll be able to play the following night in his hometown of Montreal.
Reinhart and Gorges, meanwhile, both missed the last three games before the break with upper-body injuries. Gorges had missed two contests prior to the game in Colorado on Jan. 20, during which he re-aggravated the injury. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that Gorges will play against the Canadiens.
Reinhart, meanwhile, sustained his injury in that game on an open-ice collision with Avalanche forward John Mitchell. He too skated over the break, but wore a red non-contact jersey for practice on Monday.
"Today was a test," Reinhart said. "I was competing. The guys, I don’t think they were letting up too much. I don’t know if there are many hits, but there are definitely some battles. I felt comfortable with it and hopefully that provides some very good news for tomorrow."
Bylsma was hesitant to give an indication on Reinhart's status for Wednesday until after he sheds the red sweater for Tuesday morning's practice.
"Let's talk after tomorrow and make sure we continue to move in that direction," he said.
One Sabre who remained absent from practice on Monday was forward Tyler Ennis, who has missed 13 games with an upper-body injury. Bylsma said that while Ennis is continuing to work off the ice, his status has not yet changed from week-to-week.
JACK'S FIRST ACCOLADE
Jack Eichel was honored by the NHL for the first time in his young career when he was named the League's Third Star of the Week on Monday morning. Eichel tallied four points in the last two games before the break, dishing two assists in New York and then scoring two goals in Ottawa.
Those games, Bylsma said, were reminiscent of Eichel's performance in Tampa Bay early in the season that Bylsma had often referred to as his best NHL game. They were also the continuation of a two-month trend – after scoring 16 points in 34 games prior to Christmas, Eichel has scored 18 (7+11) in just 16 games since.
While the six-day break that the players received for the holidays couldn't have hurt the rookie, Bylsma doesn't see the rest as the only reason for the spike in Eichel's numbers.
"The break was a six-day break and a needed break for a lot of people," Bylsma said. "But I think his work off the ice and his work on the ice has been considerably higher since the break and I think it's paid off into what we see on the ice."
Eichel agreed that his continued preparation has begun to translate into on-ice results.
"It's something I think I still need to get a lot better at and something I've talked to the coaches about," Eichel said. "Just preparing for practice, making sure I take advantage of every day I'm on the ice with these guys and try to get better. Then it's going to translate to the games."
The Sabres began practice on Monday in somewhat of an unorthodox fashion, playing a full-team, 10-on-9 scrimmage in which two pucks were in play and each player used a stick opposite their normal hand.
Bylsma said that it won't be the last time we see something like this at practice.
"Just stepping back from the break, we've all been gone in different places for five days or so. Putting your head on a different way and having a little game to start with to get us back in, you know you're going to see more competition from me in our practices going out here the rest of the way and that was the first," he said.
Ryan O'Reilly, who was traveling back from Sunday's NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, was not at practice and is expected to rejoin the team on Tuesday.