Since being recalled to Buffalo for the first time this season last Wednesday, the opportunities for Nicholas Baptiste to make an impression on the Sabres' coaching staff have been limited. Having not played in either of the two games on their recent road trip, the only chances he had to get on the ice with the team came in morning skates.
Following his first full practice with the team on Monday morning, it appears an opportunity may be on the horizon. Phil Housley said that Baptiste will be a game-time decision against Washington on Tuesday, but his inclusion on a line with Sam Reinhart and Seth Griffith was a positive sign.
"It's a game-time decision right now," Housley said. "We're just trying to get a feel. We wanted to get him a good practice."
Video: Sabres Now (11/6/17)
After an admittedly slow start to his season in Rochester, Baptiste's recall was preceded by back-to-back multi-point efforts against the Laval Rocket, the latter of which saw him net a pair of goals in the final two minutes of an eventual overtime win.
The manner in which he scored those goals likely contributed to his recall. The first was scored with a tip at the net front, the next on a rebound.
"They weren't pretty goals, but those are a lot of the things I've got to do is get to the net and use my body to be effective," Baptiste said.
Establishing their net-front presence has been an area of focus for Housley and the Sabres throughout the young season, one they worked on again in practice on Monday.
"I just like the pace that he brought today," Housley said. "I can only judge what I see with my own eye, watching him on film. I really like where he's scoring his goals, it's right around the paint and that's where we need to be."
Video: HOUSLEY: After Practice
Baptiste broke out as a sophomore in Rochester last season with 41 points (25+16) in 59 games. At the start of this season, he said, he was too focused on matching that production. Once he simplified his game and worried about playing hard and playing fast, the results came.
If he does play against the Capitals on Tuesday, he'll look to bring that same 200-foot mentality.
"At that level, I think I can produce pretty well," he said. "But my goal isn't to be a top scorer in the AHL, it's to be a player in the NHL. I'm excited to hopefully get into the lineup tomorrow night and work as hard as I can, be physical and help this team win."
The Sabres took another hit to their defense when Rasmus Ristolainen was forced to miss the team's game in Dallas on Saturday due to an upper-body injury. Ristolainen was absent from practice on Monday and remains day-to-day, but there was some good news on the injury front.
Housley announced that Nathan Beaulieu (upper body) and Josh Gorges (lower body) have both been skating and are on track to return to practice this week, while the status of Zach Bogosian (lower body) has improved from week-to-week to day-to-day.
"The bottom line is it's good to see that guys are starting to get healthy now," Housley said. "We've been depleted back there. It's given other guys opportunities, but it's good to see that we're getting close to healthy."
At forward, both Justin Bailey (lower body) and Evan Rodrigues (hand) have been skating and are considered day-to-day. Jacob Josefson, out since Oct. 17 with a lower-body injury, has not resumed skating at this point.
Following a 5-1 loss in Dallas Saturday, Housley said he liked the way his team had played for much of the game in spite of the final score. He explained Monday how he's tried to balance positivity with accountability, the latter of which was evident in an intense, competitive practice.
"I tend to look at things from a different perspective, as a former player and now coach. It's easy to be master of obvious and really hammer the nail. I like to try to put them in a position to succeed. We're going to still hold the payers accountable, believe me, and I think the message today was pretty strong in our meetings.
"I think we need to have more urgency in our game defending when we don't have the puck … That's more about accountability. I don't think it's a negative message, it's just more of where we're at as a group."
Lines at practice
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
13 Nicholas Baptiste - 23 Sam Reinhart - 25 Seth Griffith
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 17 Jordan Nolan
6 Marco Scandella - 41 Justin Falk
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
93 Victor Antipin - 5 Matt Tennyson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson