Certain aspects of the Buffalo Sabres' forward lines remain up in the air as they prepare to host the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night, but we can start with what we do know: forwards Derek Grant and Evan Rodrigues have joined the team on emergency recall, and Zemgus Girgensons has been declared out due to injury.
What we don't know is the status of Evander Kane, who skated on Thursday morning but did not participate in line drills. The uncertainty stems from a hard collision into the end boards after Kane scored his overtime goal against San Jose on Tuesday.
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While Kane said he felt better than he expected he would during the morning skate, both he and coach Dan Bylsma left his status as a game-time decision.
"It's tough. It's an important time of the year and I want to be out there as much as anybody. For me, I felt good this morning, feel I can contribute tonight hopefully," Kane said. "I'm just looking forward to another big game."
Bylsma said that Girgensons is day-to-day with what he described as a "mid-body" injury, accumulated over time as the centerman has been involved in a number of heavy checks in recent games. With Buffalo already thin down the middle, the Sabres made two recalls who can fill in at center.
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Rodrigues has traditionally played on the wing, but he's been playing center in Rochester this season. Bylsma said the adjusment has gone well.
"Really well," the Sabres coach said. "In a lot of cases, they kind of put Evan there early in the season out of necessity with some of the injuries they had and he started to play some of his best hockey at the center position. He feels and they feel he's a little bit more offensive in a wing position but he skates and plays a little bit more with the puck when he plays at the center position."
Rodrigues has scored nine goals and 18 assists in 43 AHL games this season, placing him fifth on the Amerks with 27 points.
"I think I've been playing in a lot of different situations down in Rochester," he said. "I think my confidence has just grown knowing I have the ability to play in different positions, play different situations. I think that's helped my confidence out a ton."
Grant returns after being claimed off of waivers from Nashville on Monday, not even a month after the Predators claimed him from Buffalo. Grant had impressed in preseason for the Sabres, fresh off of a campaign in which he scored 27 goals in 36 games for Stockton of the AHL, but he went without a goal in 35 regular-season games.
Grant nearly earned first NHL goal in his third game with Nashville, only to see it called back when it was ruled the referee had "intent to blow the whistle."
"Everyone likes scoring goals," he said. "When you go from being able to do on a pretty consistent basis last year to this year where they're not going in even with chances, it's something you obviously try not to think about too much because obviously you squeeze your stick a little bit more than you should. For me, it's just trying to get back to being more relaxed out there around the net with the puck … Eventually one of them is going to go in."
Grant's abilities in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill will allow Bylsma to ease the load placed on Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, who have been double shifting with the fourth line to spell Nicolas Deslauriers in recent games.
"I'd like to see Jack and I'd like to see Ryan on the ice in an offensive position or a place where we get them an opportunity to score a goal versus wearing them out with some of those other responsibilities," Bylsma said. "Derek will be able to spell them in both of those spots."
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres, while Justin Falk - a healthy scratch on Tuesday - will reenter the lineup.
The Ducks are playing the fourth game of a season-long six-game, 14-day road trip, having already lost the first three. Ryan Kesler leads the team with 42 points (18+24), including 34 points in his last 42 games. Rickard Rakell leads with 21 goals.
John Gibson, 20-13-8 with a .920 save percentage on the season, will oppose Lehner in net.
Coverage on Thursday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Ducks at 7 p.m.
Although Kane's presence would shake these lines up at least a little bit, here's how they looked sans Kane on Thursday morning:
23 Sam Reinhart - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 63 Tyler Ennis
56 Justin Bailey - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
4 Josh Gorges - 41 Justin Falk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson