Before the Buffalo Sabres embarked for Denver, they held an optional practice Friday morning at First Niagara Center. Tyler Ennis, who left Thursday night’s game after the second period due to an upper-body injury, did not skate and is unlikely to play Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said that Ennis will make the two-game road trip and hopes that Buffalo’s leading scorer will be able to play Monday night in Arizona.
Ennis had a goal and an assist against the Coyotes on Thursday and his presence in the lineup will certainly be missed.
“It’s a big loss. He’s a big key to our offense, to our power play,” captain Brian Gionta, who filled in on the top line, said. “Since he moved back to the point, we’ve been doing well on the power play, too. So hopefully it comes around quick and we’ll see what happens.”
Last week, Nolan called Ennis the team’s most valuable player and reaffirmed that stance on Friday. In 72 games this season, the 25-year-old right wing has 19 goals and 42 points.
“With all the distractions – if you want to call it that – quietly and very efficiently, Tyler Ennis, I think he’s been having a sensational year,” Nolan said. “In particular, the last 10 games or so, his play has gone up another level.
“Somebody asked me, ‘What’s the ceiling on this kid?’ I’m not too sure what it is, but it’s going to be magnificent to watch. You look so much at the future sometimes that you forget about the present. Right now, he’s certainly a gift to watch.”
In the meantime, center Tim Schaller has been recalled from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.
One of the first players on the ice Friday was goaltender Chad Johnson, who has been sidelined due to a lower-body injury since the morning skate in Ottawa on March 6.
Johnson was scheduled to start that night, but on the last shot he faced, he took a puck off the ankle and was later ruled out. It was supposed to be his first game as a Sabre.
Buffalo acquired Johnson and a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft from the New York Islanders on March 2 for goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
“It was frustrating,” Johnson said on Friday. “I wanted to come here and make a good impression by playing in games and helping this team win. And then just the last shot there, I felt a pop in my ankle and I knew it wasn’t good.”
He’s optimistic that he can return before the season ends on April 11, but the coaching and medical staffs will err on the side of caution. He did not take any shots on Friday but hopes to on Saturday.
Regarding the healthy goaltenders on the roster, Nolan said that Anders Lindback will likely start in net against Colorado.
With seven defensemen ready to go, Nolan has a decision to make every game as to which six blue liners will play. Nikita Zadorov played 9:46 on Thursday and Nolan said it’s a possibility the 19 year old could be the odd-man out in Denver.
Nolan would like to see Zadorov’s work habits improve and the coaches have been working with him every day to help him succeed on at the NHL level.
“You just watch the habits of guys who practice and that’s why they get better,” he said. “Nikita, he just has to learn to do that. And by no means do you say he’s not going to get there but sometimes it takes a little while.”