SUNRISE, Fla. - Casey Nelson was back with the Buffalo Sabres for practice at BB&T Center on Monday after completing a five-game conditioning assignment in Rochester, providing a needed extra body on a day when three other defensemen were absent.
Zach Bogosian and Rasmus Ristolainen both took maintenance days. Their status for the Sabres' game against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday will be decided in the morning. Sabres coach Phil Housley also said that Marco Scandella is week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
The Sabres were also without Kyle Okposo after the forward returned to Buffalo to undergo further evaluations on an injury he sustained during a fight with New York Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo on Friday. Okposo had skated Sunday morning ahead of the team's game in New Jersey.
"Kyle's back in Buffalo getting further evaluated," Housley said. "I don't have any information up to this point, but he went back to Buffalo to get further evaluated by our doctors."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Housley
The statuses of Bogosian and Ristolainen will likely help determine whether Nelson steps right back into the lineup against the Panthers. Nelson recorded an assist and eight shots during his five games in Rochester, which he said helped restore his timing after an absence of more than two months.
"Yeah, absolutely, especially those last two games against a speedy team (Syracuse)," Nelson said. "I'm looking forward to whenever I get back in."
Nelson sustained his upper-body injury early in the Sabres' home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 4. He's missed 28 games since then, but said the toughest part came early when he was forced to spend his time away from the rink.
"It's the thing, is that you've got to just stay mentally strong," he said. "It was good. I saw the guys whenever I could, and they were very supportive. It was good to see them everyday at the rink finally when I got to come there."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Nelson
The third-year pro had begun to carve out consistent ice time, having appeared in nine of Buffalo's last 10 contests prior to sustaining his injury. He's totaled five points (1+4) in 22 games this season.
"We'll know more tomorrow after we sort out everything," Housley said when asked about Nelson's status for the game in Florida. "But it's good that he's done his assignment, he's back with us. When he was in the lineup, I thought he did a terrific job."
Coverage of the Sabres' game against the Panthers on Tuesday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.
Video: SABRES NOW
Sam Reinhart reached a new career-high in points (51) with his goal in New Jersey on Sunday, and it took him just 58 games. He had already set career-best marks in assists (37) and multi-point games (15) entering the game against the Devils.
Reinhart's proved of late that he can produce regardless of where he's placed in the lineup, giving Housley the option to remove him from the top line in favor of balanced scoring. He was back skating alongside Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary on Monday, where he excelled earlier this month.
The Sabres have outscored opponents 5-1 in 74:46 with that trio on the ice at 5-on-5, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
"I really liked the way he responded when Sheary, Mittelstadt and Reinhart were together," Housley said. "He sort of took his game to another level. It's good to see him get rewarded. He goes to the net pretty hard.
"He makes plays around tight traffic and when he gets his body over the puck down low, he creates offense when he drives out of the cycle. It's great to see him do the things that are going to help us win."sn
Here's how the Sabres lined up on Monday, with Jason Pominville back on the right wing alongside Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel:
53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
43 Conor Sheary - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 23 Sam Reinhart
49 C.J. Smith - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 72 Tage Thompson
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 22 Johan Larsson - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
Defensemen: 8 Casey Nelson, 19 Jake McCabe, 24 Lawrence Pilut, 26 Rasmus Dahlin, 48 Matt Hunwick, 82 Nathan Beaulieu
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark