Victor Olofsson and Kyle Okposo will be back in the lineup for the Buffalo Sabres against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at KeyBank Center.
Olofsson has missed 15 games since sustaining a lower-body injury against Edmonton on Jan. 2. Coach Ralph Krueger spoke highly of how the rookie handled his time away from the ice.
"I think he also had an opportunity to take a breath and to watch the game from the outside and we actually just finished having a conversation with him about that, his experiences, what he saw, what he learned," Krueger said. "I feel because of the hockey intelligence that he has, he's going to come out of this actually an even better player.
"He's done a fabulous job. He's remained close to the team the whole time. He said that too, that was really important for him to stay socially connected. But also, the hockey processing that he's done in his mind I think will help him to just confirm the great game that he has."
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
The 24-year-old is expected to return to the top line alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart in addition to reassuming his role on the first power-play unit. In spite of the long absence, he's still tied for second among league rookies with 16 goals and ranks fourth with 35 points.
Okposo has missed six contests with an upper-body injury sustained during his first shift against Montreal on Jan. 30. He, too, will play in a familiar spot, alongside regular linemates Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson.
The Sabres will dress 12 forwards and seven defensemen in warmups and reveal their full lineup then. Marcus Johansson is out and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The team sent winger Scott Wilson to Rochester this afternoon.
Carter Hutton will get the nod in net. He's coming off a 27-save performance against Detroit on Tuesday, his third win in four starts.
Scouting the Blue Jackets
The Sabres grinded out a 2-1 overtime victory against the Blue Jackets on Feb. 1. Evan Rodrigues scored in the first period, Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in the third, and Jack Eichel scored the winner.
Video: Eichel leads Sabres by Blue Jackets for overtime win
It was the sort of low-scoring game the Blue Jackets have made their living on this season. They've allowed an average of 2.40 goals against per game, the second-best mark in the NHL. Their penalty kill ranks sixth at 83.2 percent.
Injuries have hit them hard in recent days, with Seth Jones (out 8-10 weeks) and Cam Atkinson (2-3 weeks) both out due to ankle injuries. They recalled forward Liam Foudy, their first-round pick in 2018, from OHL London on an emergency basis prior to their game against Tampa on Monday.
Given the Blue Jackets' commitment to their structure, Krueger said he still expects the same defensive challenge despite the losses in their lineup.
"They bring up depth players, what actually happens is the work ethic even goes up with Columbus," he said. "We've watched that all season long. We're not taking anything lightly because of bodies out because they really truly are the best defensive team in the league because of the way they connect as a group without the puck and the patience they have to wait for your breakdowns and the opportunities is second to none too.
"We just have a lot of respect for how organized they are and we need to match that like we did 12 days ago. We were able to match their defensive structure. Really, both teams played excellent defensive games that day and Jack was able to be the difference in overtime. We'd like to have more offense than we had in that game today. That's going to be the ask of the team and we've got some strategies to try and break down their defense. It's not easy, trust me, but we're going to do our best here tonight."
Video: Sabres Memories: Scary Good Goal Call
Daniel Briere and Tim Connolly are among the 17 alumni who will be in attendance. The team will also hold a pregame ceremony to honor the ownership group of B. Thomas Golisano.
Find more information on tonight's festivities here.
Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m. You can also listen to the game on WGR 550, with puck drop scheduled for 7.