GLENDALE, Ariz. - It's been four days since the Buffalo Sabres last played a game, a rare stretch of rest in what's been an otherwise jam-packed early season schedule for the team. The schedule resumes Thursday night when they kick off a two-game road trip against the Arizona Coyotes.
In the meantime, the Sabres have had one player lost to injury and another return. Justin Bailey is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and will not play after missing practice on Wednesday, while defenseman Justin Falk will return to the lineup to make his season debut.
Falk sustained his injury late in the preseason, following a camp in which he felt he had done well to impress Phil Housley and his coaching staff. He served as a reliable, physical defensemen last season, but has looked to employ his skating ability more in Housley's system.
"I though the preseason went well," he said Wednesday. "I was moving well, I was being physical, I was bring the elements that I need to bring."
Seth Griffith will take Bailey's place on the right wing playing with Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart. Housley said that Nicholas Baptiste's inclusion in the lineup will be a game-time decision, although Baptiste did not take first reps in line rushes during the morning skate.
Baptiste was recalled for the first time this season on Wednesday morning, and even if he doesn't play, he said he's happy to be with the Sabres.
"It's an honor to be back up here," he said. "This team is where I want to be for my career. I want to be playing Buffalo and I want to play for the Sabres. I've got to continue to work hard to make that a reality."
Baptiste made his NHL debut last season and went on to score four points (3+1) in 14 games with the Sabres. He came into camp this fall with his eyes set on securing a roster spot, but was reassigned to Rochester on Sept. 28.
After an admittedly slow start with the Amerks, he notched back-to-back multi-point outings in Rochester to put himself in a tie for the team lead with three goals.
"One of the reasons, from just watching him on film, is I think he's getting to the net harder," Housley said. "He's cleaning up some second opportunities, which is good because that's an area of focus that we've had as a group."
Baptiste said his turn-around - and what will make him successful at the NHL level - is about more than production.
"I wasn't working hard enough in my own end," he said. "I was too worried about scoring and getting points and contributing offensively. I got away from playing hard and playing fast. That's just kind of what I have to get back to."
Should Baptiste not be in the lineup Thursday, Housley said it will serve as a chance for him to watch and adjust mentally to the speed of the game. He'll have another chance to enter the lineup when the road trip concludes in Dallas on Saturday.
"I'm not going to come in here and steal somebody's job on the top line," Baptiste said. "I've got to earn my way up. I may start on the fourth line. It's just working hard and doing the little things to help this team win."
Coverage on Thursday begins at 9:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10 p.m.
Scouting the Coyotes
It's been a long start to the season for the Coyotes, who sit in last place in the NHL with just one win in 13 games (1-11-1). They finally earned that win against Philadelphia on Monday, only to lose the following game in Detroit by a score of 5-3.
For all of their losses, it's surprising that the Coyotes are actually tied for 10th in the NHL with 11 first-period goals. In fact, they've managed to score the first goal in nine of their first 13 contests, which ties them for the NHL lead.
In order to capitalize on a struggling opponent, Housley said the Sabres need to be ready to weather an aggressive start.
"We're going to have to be ready for them at the start of the game because they're going to want to establish their forecheck and try to turn pucks over," Housley said. "We've got to be aware of that. We've got to work back as a five-man unit, support each other out of our zone, gain zones and make sure we have good puck management."
Aggressiveness can also lead to opportunities going the other way, however. Arizona is led by its top line of Clayton Keller, Derek Stepan and Max Domi, who together have been on the ice for six goals for the Coyotes at 5-on-5 but also 11 against. That latter mark leads the NHL.
Keller has proven to be particularly dangerous, earning Rookie of the Month honors for October after scoring nine goals and six assists in 13 games. The 19-year-old's path to the NHL is one that should be familiar to Buffalo fans, having gone from the USA Hockey Team National Development Program to a single season at Boston University.
"I think overall, they have pretty good team speed," Housley said. "He's a guy that anticipates well, especially possession changes in their own D zone. He's a guy who likes to play a long game. We're going to have to be aware of him and sense that danger because he does have a lot of good speed."
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart - 25 Seth Griffith
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 17 Jordan Nolan
6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 5 Matt Tennyson
41 Justin Falk - 93 Victor Antipin
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson