ST. LOUIS - Early-season injuries to the Sabres' lineup have resulted in a revolving door of auditions for young players looking to prove they belong in the NHL. Nicholas Baptiste, William Carrier, Justin Bailey and Justin Falk have all been recalled at various points this season, and we're only 15 games in.
Today, you can add Evan Rodrigues to that list. Rodrigues was recalled along with Baptiste and Falk on Tuesday morning and will be in the lineup for the Sabres tonight in St. Louis. He'll replace Ryan O'Reilly, who will miss his second game in a row due to injury.
It will be the third NHL game for Rodrigues, who played the final two games of last season in Buffalo and scored a goal and an assist.
Video: BUF@NYI: Rodrigues blasts it home for first NHL goal
"It was definitely nice to get those two games at the end of the year," Rodrigues said following the team's morning skate at Scottrade Center. "It kind of proved to myself that I can play here and it gave me a little bit more motivation going into the summer."
Rodrigues has scored eight points (3+5) in 13 games for Rochester after tallying 30 points (9+21) in 72 games as a rookie last season. He's been playing center rather than on the wing, which is his natural position, while trying to stay patient knowing the Sabres' injury situation could eventually open the door for him to get another shot at the NHL level.
"You try not to worry about that stuff too much because then you start to get in your head a little bit more than you want to," he said. "You've just got to take it game-by-game and make sure you're playing the best hockey you can play and when your time comes you have to be ready."
Video: PREVIEW: BUF at STL (11/15/16)
He certainly seemed ready when his chance came last season, scoring a goal and an assist in the season finale against the New York Islanders. Since the Sabres are facing the Blues and former goalie coach Jim Corsi, it's also relevant to mention that Rodrigues' Corsi-for percentage in those two games was an astronomical 72.1.
"Maybe he was better in the NHL than in the American Hockey League," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's why I reminded him of how he did have success last year and hopefully he can bring it tonight."
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with the TOPS Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops in St. Louis at 8 p.m.
Despite not traveling with the team to St. Louis, O'Reilly and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov remain day-today, Bylsma said. The team hopes for O'Reilly to be able to return to the lineup at home against Tampa Bay on Thursday, while he admitted the timetable for Kulikov isn't as clear.
"He was dealing with an injury that he was playing with and it was nagging and it was getting to the point where it was affecting what he could do on the ice," Bylsma said. "We just wanted to get away from that so he's had some treatment."
Beating the Blues
Despite being winless in their last four games, the Sabres were noticeably in good spirits both on the ice and in the dressing room on Tuesday morning. Buffalo is about to begin a string of three-straight games against conference finalists from last season in St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.
"I did like the way our team was out on the ice today and we should be excited," Bylsma said. "We're challenged with playing a couple of tough teams in a row here starting with St. Louis tonight. We've got a pretty big challenge ahead of us the next three games and I think it's one we should be excited for."
The Blues have had success in recent seasons, but they're currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Their most recent loss was an 8-4 blowout in Columbus in which goalies Jake Allen and Carter Hutton gave up four goals apiece. Allen will start in net against the Sabres, who will look to exploit any reservations that may have carried over from that game.
"I think both teams are feeling that way," Bylsma said. "We need to get out to a start early. Maybe if we can get one on them, even if it can bounce off a skate in, maybe get them questioning a bit, I think that's an opportunity we can come out and take advantage of."