Zach Bogosian led the stretch at center ice to conclude practice at Harborcenter on Wednesday, his first skate with his Sabres teammates since late September.
He'll need a few more practices before making his season debut, but it was a step in the right direction.
"I felt nice to be back with the team," Bogosian said. "It's been a little bit. It felt good."
Video: Wednesday's updates from practice
Bogosian has been out since sustaining a lower-body injury during the Sabres' preseason game in Clinton, N.Y. on Sept. 25. Phil Housley said the team is being cautious with the defenseman, who had season-ending hip surgery in January.
"I thought he looked really good being his first practice back with our group, a pretty good upbeat, up-tempo practice," Housley said. "A good sign he's able to get through it."
Bogosian admitted the delay has been difficult given the amount of time it's been since he's appeared in a regular-season game. The silver lining is that the Sabres began their season with four home games, which allowed him to be around his teammates.
"Mentally I feel good," he said. "That's one thing I can control, is what I think about and how I stay positive and how I can contribute as a teammate when I'm not in the lineup. I think any time you go through what I've been through, there's good days and bad days.
"But being around the guys has been great. I've had a lot of help with my family and just being around the guys, making me smile. It's not an easy thing to go through, it's not a fun thing to go through. I don't wish anyone to go through it. But I continue to grow from it."
Vladimir Sobotka and Johan Larsson also practiced on Wednesday. Sobotka has been out since sustaining an upper-body injury in the season opener against Boston last Thursday. Larsson returned to practice on Sunday but remains on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.
Housley said that the forwards' status for Thursday's game against Colorado has not been determined.
"Smooth is fast"
The Sabres made a point of adding speed to their lineup during the offseason, which came in the form of additions like Conor Sheary and Jeff Skinner at forward and Rasmus Dahlin on defense. But that's not the only reason they've looked faster in their last two games.
Buffalo's ability to move quickly up the ice begins with clean passing from the defensive zone, which has been markedly improved from a season ago.
"If you start off with a bad pass, everyone has to wait for it," defenseman Marco Scandella said. "Being crispy is fast. Smooth is fast. I feel like we're more detailed with that in practice and it's translating to games."
Take Rasmus Ristolainen for example. Of the 21 outlet passes he attempted in a 4-2 win over Vegas on Monday, 19 were successful (per MSG statistician Ray Orrange). He echoed Scandella in saying that the improvement has stemmed from everyday habits in practice.
"When you're executing with the passing - flat, hard passes on the tape - the game is going to be quicker," Ristolainen said. "We can still work on it, but at this time of the year it's better than it was last year."
The onus isn't only on the defensemen. Ristolainen and Housley both mentioned how advantageous it's been to have a puck-moving goaltender in Carter Hutton, but success is also dependent on the work by forwards to make themselves available.
"We call it a block of five guys, getting back in the zone," Housley said. "It also helps that your goalie can handle the puck, because it gives our D an opportunity to get themselves turned up and facing up ice. But I think the forwards have done a really good job of coming back harder on the breakouts so they're available and we're connected as a five-man unit, so we're able to make those 10-foot passes and break down forechecks.
"It's a credit to everybody that's on the ice. We've really focused on coming back into our own end trying to get some picks for our D and even in our transition game, it's about working back and giving support to our defensemen."
Lines at practice
43 Conor Sheary - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 10 Patrik Berglund - 21 Kyle Okposo
81 Remi Elie - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 72 Tage Thompson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 22 Johan Larsson
6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 26 Rasmus Dahlin
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 8 Casey Nelson
5 Matt Tennyson - 4 Zach Bogosian
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark