MONTREAL - Nathan Beaulieu thought his season was off to a strong start when he blocked a shot in San Jose on Oct. 18, leaving him with an upper-body injury that would force him to miss the Sabres' game in Los Angeles two days later.
It just so happened that Beaulieu's ailment coincided with a hot run for the team. The Sabres went on to win their next three games and Beaulieu was left waiting for his turn to join the lineup. He's only appeared in one game since.
The defenseman has impressed his coaching staff with his attitude and work ethic in the meantime. He'll be rewarded with a chance to play his former team when the Sabres visit the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
"Getting that injury in San Jose, the team got hot," Beaulieu said following the team's morning skate at Bell Centre. "The biggest thing I can do is just stay ready and get better. In this league, you get the opportunity to get on the ice every day. I just tried to make the best of it, not try to stress out too much about it. I liked where my game's at. It's just a good chance to put another foot forward tonight."
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Beaulieu's first season as a Sabre was interrupted several times by illness or injury, limiting the defenseman to 59 games. After taking time to reflect, he spent the summer focusing on his conditioning and was an early standout at training camp.
The fruits of his labor showed in the numbers through eight games. Beaulieu's Corsi-for percentage of 53.94 ranks sixth on the team and second amongst Sabres defensemen. He's been on the ice for three Sabres goals at even-strength and only one against.
He stepped back into the lineup against Calgary on Oct. 30, but admitted it was difficult given the amount of time he was out. He's focused on increasing his practice efforts in the days since to ensure he'd be ready for his next shot.
"I tried to ramp up my practices a little bit more and hit the gym a little more," he said. "I feel really, really good right now. I'm just excited. It's never easy, sitting out and watching."
Coverage of Buffalo's game in Montreal begins at 7 p.m. on MSG-B with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30.
Scouting the Habs
The matchup will pit two of the NHL's hottest goal scorers against one another in the Sabres' Jeff Skinner and the Canadiens' Max Domi. Both have eight goals since Oct. 20, tying them with San Jose's Timo Meier for the league lead during the span.
Domi scored twice in the first matchup between the two teams, a 4-3 Sabres win in which they erased three one-goal deficits.
"Montreal is playing some very good hockey," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "They lost a couple in their last three but, for the most part, they've played a really good brand of hockey. They're fast. Domi got two against us last game here [in Buffalo] and he's a threat every time he's on the ice."
The Sabres have tallied 40 or more shots in five of their last seven games, including a 42-22 edge in that first meeting with the Canadiens. The key in that victory was their ability to put bodies in front of the Montreal net, something Housley said he'd like to see more of. The Sabres have earned points in three of their last five games, but only one of those games was a win.
"We're playing the game aggressively," Housley said. "We're attacking the game aggressively. I still think that we've got to pay more of a price in front of the net to score goals. The results are not in our favor. It's good to be trending in one direction, but we've still got to win hockey games."
Beaulieu will skate on a defense pair with Rasmus Dahlin, replacing Casey Nelson. Kyle Okposo will move to a forward line with Conor Sheary and Casey Mittelstadt while Evan Rodrigues will center Vladimir Sobotka and Sam Reinhart.
Linus Ullmark will get the nod in net. Here's the full projected lineup:
53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 23 Sam Reinhart
43 Conor Sheary - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 21 Kyle Okposo
10 Patrik Berglund - 22 Johan Larsson - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
4 Zach Bogosian - 6 Marco Scandella
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 26 Rasmus Dahlin
35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton