Coming off a tough 7-1 loss Saturday night in Colorado, the Buffalo Sabres shook up some of their lines at practice at First Niagara Center on Sunday.
Drew Stafford is set to return to the lineup Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers from an upper-body injury that’s kept him out for the past four games. He skated on a line with Tyler Ennis at center and Linus Omark on the left wing.
Stafford sustained an upper-body injury on Jan. 2 in Minnesota and missed four games because of it. In his first four games back, he recorded three goals and two assists. He re-aggravated the injury on Jan. 25 in Columbus and has been out ever since.
He’s hoping he can pick up right where he left off.
“I felt as though I was getting going and unfortunately, a little bit of a setback and then another setback as well,” he said after practice. “Dealing with those two setbacks, it’s tough, but at the same time, you just have to keep at it and back now, hopefully, finish strong here before the break. And then it would be nice to get on that break as well and make sure it’s totally 100-percent feeling good.”
He may have been ready to go against Colorado, but the team decided to give him a few more days to make sure he was 100 percent. He took some bumps in practice Sunday afternoon from 6-foot-8, 259-pound forward John Scott.
“You never know what can happen, but at the same time, it helps your mindset a little bit, it puts your mind at ease when you battle against a not exactly small human being like John Scott,” Stafford said. “He was my tester. If I can do well against him – at least somewhat well – he was kind of throwing me around like a rag doll a little bit like that, but it’s feeling pretty well.”
Getting back a player like Stafford who’s capable of producing points should help ease the loss of leading scorer Matt Moulson, who could be out until after the Olympic break after sustaining an upper-body injury Thursday night.
“Right now we haven’t got enough depth to lose a guy like Drew and Matty at the same time. At least we get one of them back,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said.
Omark has been a healthy scratch the past three games and Nolan said the 26-year-old forward will play against his former team on Monday. The Sabres acquired Omark from the Oilers on Dec. 19 for a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Omark is feeling a little extra motivation heading into the game.
“I would be lying if I said, ‘No.’ But of course, it’s going to be a fun game,” Omark said. “I know a lot of guys on that team, so hopefully we can win.”
Jhonas Enroth will start in goal against the Oilers. He is 1-10-5 this season, but isn’t thinking much about personal wins and losses.
“I just need to prepare myself and get ready,” he said. “Obviously I can’t score any goals or anything like that so I just need to focus on my job and that’s to try to save as many pucks as possible.”
Nolan also decided to practice with more size at the center ice position. Zemgus Girgensons practiced in the middle on a line with Philip Varone on the left and Brian Flynn on the right. All three have played center this season, but for now it looks like Girgensons will pivot that line.
“He’s almost like a natural center iceman,” Nolan said. “He likes to skate and with our injury count right now, it’s a great time to test him. He’s very comfortable in that position. That’s where he grew up playing so we’ll probably put him in that position and see how he does.”
While Girgensons will likely play center for Team Latvia under Nolan’s watch at the Winter Olympics, his move back there with only three games to go before the break only has to do with putting players in position where they can best help the Sabres succeed.
“We’re thinking about what’s going to make this team better,” Nolan said.
Enroth, who will play for Team Sweden at the Olympics, broke in some new gear at practice Sunday. He wore a new glove, a new blocker, new pads and a new mask that celebrates his native country.
“The pads and the gear are really good these days so it just needs one or two practices and then they’re ready to go so they’re fine,” he said.
Ryan Miller is also breaking in some equipment for Team USA. He’s donned his new Olympic mask and a new red, white and blue blocker for two straight practices.
He and Enroth spent some time at the end of practice comparing equipment at center ice.
Ville Leino and Marcus Foligno worked as the fourth forwards on different lines at practice. In addition to doing their own line work with Cody McCormick – who skated in a red non-contact jersey – Leino was in white with Steve Ott, Cody Hodgson and Matt D’Agostini while Foligno was in gray with Scott, Zenon Konopka and Matt Ellis.
17 Linus Omark – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini – Ville Leino
84 Phil Varone – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
32 John Scott – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis – Marcus Foligno
Red Non-Contact: Cody McCormick
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
20 Henrik Tallinder – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 4 Jamie McBain
52 Alexander Sulzer
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth