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Following return to practice, McCabe optimistic for Thursday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

While the Buffalo Sabres continue to nurse their defensive corps in advance of Thursday's season opener, a promising addition joined the team on the ice for practice on Tuesday. 

Jake McCabe, out since Sept. 23 with an upper-body injury, was a full participant at practice. He said afterward that he felt 100 percent, and Sabres coach Phil Housley was optimistic when asked about McCabe's status for Thursday.

"Today's practice was a good measure," Housley said. "There was a lot of battling and he looked great out there."

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Housley

The Sabres are still without Zach Bogosian, who remains day-to-day after leaving Buffalo's game against New York last Friday with a lower-body injury. Justin Falk is also day-to-day after missing practice on Tuesday. Housley said he does not expect Falk to practice Wednesday.

With Bogosian and Falk absent, the Sabres practiced with seven defensemen: McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, Rasmus Ristolainen, Victor Antipin, Marco Scandella, Josh Gorges and Matt Tennyson.

Scandella is returning from offseason hip surgery, and while he has practiced regularly, he did not play in the preseason. He has not been confirmed to play Thursday, but Housley offered a promising update following practice.

"Marco's been doing great," Housley said. "We said it was going to be a process with him and his progress is going in a great direction. These last two practices were pretty intense, there was a lot of battle but he looked great out there so that's promising."

McCabe skated on a pair with Antipin, marking the first time they've worked as a defensive unit in camp. While Antipin is still growing accustomed to North America and the English language in general, McCabe said there were no hiccups through one day on the ice. 

"We actually talked a ton out there," McCabe said. "We communicated well. I thought our switches in our D-zone went well. I think it's really come along for him, and I think you can see it throughout camp, how his confidence is rising." 

McCabe averaged a career-high 20:42 last season and scored three goals and 17 assists for 20 points. His shorthanded goal against Carolina in Buffalo's preseason opener on Sept. 18, when he joined the rush and scored from the left faceoff circle, showed room for offensive growth in Housley's system.

While the Sabres may have to wait a bit longer before their defense returns to full strength, McCabe's return is a step in the right direction.

"Today was a good day," he said. "Coach Housley is the one in charge of the lineup, but it was nice to get back out with the boys."


Beaulieu on facing Montreal

It will be a new experience for Beaulieu on Thursday night, facing his former team in the Montreal Canadiens. Beaulieu was drafted by Montreal in 2011 and spent parts of five professional seasons with the Canadiens prior to being acquired by the Sabres in June. 

Beaulieu said at the time of the trade that he knew his time in Montreal had come to an end, and he admitted to having a chip on his shoulder on Tuesday.

"I definitely have a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I was in Montreal for quite some time and developed a good relationship with a lot of people there … Obviously there's some emotions involved. The biggest thing is just for me to go out there and play my game. There's no friends over there now."


A new look on the power play

While their top unit remained the same, Phil Housley tweaked his second power-play unit for practice on Tuesday. Seth Griffith joined Jason Pominville and Evander Kane down low, while Antipin joined Beaulieu at the point.

Housley said Antipin's puck-moving abilities and offensive instincts make him a good fit on the man advantage. 

"He knows when to jump in the holes, he's pretty smart that way," Housley said. "When he scored his goal he jumped up the ice and found a little pocket there, and he's a tremendous passer. He's just got to try to use his fundamentally good skills in that respect and get shots to the net."


Lines at practice

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
22 Johan Larsson / 26 Matt Moulson - 10 Jacob Josefson - 17 Jordan Nolan

82 Nathan Beaulieu - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 93 Victor Antipin
6 Marco Scandella - 5 Matt Tennyson / 4 Josh Gorges

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson

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