After Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson made their returns to the Buffalo Sabres lineup on Sunday, at least one more player is close to making a comeback.
Drew Stafford skated with the team Monday morning at First Niagara Center for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury against the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Day. He skated in a red non-contact jersey but thinks he might be able to play soon.
“It’s more [of a] day-to-day kind of thing. I’ve been feeling really good the last couple days,” Stafford said. “I had a really long day today, hard working day today. We’ll see how it responds later today and tomorrow morning. That’s pretty much where we’re at.”
WATCH: DREW STAFFORD INTERVIEW
Cody McCormick, also in a red non-contact jersey, isn’t as close to coming off injured reserve as Stafford may be, but is happy to be back on the ice as a part of a team practice. He’s missed 11 games with an upper-body injury. He made his return to practice on Saturday.
“There’s still time, but getting back with the guys and being able to participate in practices, it’s a welcome change to what I was doing,” McCormick said. “You want to practice with the guys, you want to be around the guys and when you’re hurt, you’re doing the things on the side and working to get back into practice. It feels good to get out there.”
Henrik Tallinder and Kevin Porter, who are also on injured reserve, have been skating on their own and interim coach Ted Nolan said that they, like McCormick, will still be out for a little while longer.
Steve Ott was given a maintenance day and did not practice. John Scott, a healthy scratch in the team’s 2-1 shootout win in Washington on Sunday, took Ott’s spot on a line with Cody Hodgson and Matt D’Agostini.
The Sabres announced late Sunday night that 19-year-old center Mikhail Grigorenko had decided to accept his assignment to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“We can’t control what people do and what they say, but we certainly can control how we’re going to try to run this organization and what we feel is necessary for the development of young players,” Nolan said. “The tail can’t wag the dog. The dog wags the tail.
“So we feel as an organization, it’s best for him to develop in junior hockey and that’s not taking anything away from him. He’s got some skills and he’s got some ability, but in order for him to play at this level, we just need a little bit more.”
With Tallinder out with an upper-body injury and Tyler Myers serving a three-game suspension, the Sabres coaching staff has been rotating the second “A.” Mike Weber served as an alternate captain on Thursday against Florida and the letter was given to Matt Moulson for the game on Sunday.
WATCH: MATT MOULSON INTERVIEW
“It’s an honor to have a letter on your jersey,” Mouslon said. “I don’t think it changes the way you act or the things I would do. Who knows how long I’ll have it for, but it is always an honor to be looked upon as a leader.”
In his last 10 games, Ryan Miller has a save percentage of .950. That’s the best save percentage he’s posted in any 10-game stretch of his career.
He made a highlight-reel save with the blade of his stick on Mikhail Grabovski with 2:14 to play in the third period that Nolan called “one for the ages.”
After the game, Nolan said he was looking down to see which line to call out next and had to watch the save on replay.
“I was looking down at my papers for the next line combination and the guys said I missed the save of the year,” Nolan said Sunday night.
How would Nolan describe Miller’s play of late?
“Out of this world, maybe,” he said. “I don’t know. His last two starts and every game he’s played here since I’ve been here have been outstanding.”
WATCH: TED NOLAN PRESS CONFERENCE
Miller’s teammates have noticed his strong play all season.
“He’s one of the best goalies in the world and sometimes when you do have breakdowns, he’s obviously there to bail you out much like he’s done all year,” Moulson said. “You have a world-class goalie like that, I think it instills a little more confidence in the team. He’s been playing tremendous.”
The win over the Capitals marked the team’s first win on the road since Nov. 5 in San Jose. They snapped an 11-game losing streak away from First Niagara Center.
“It’s nice to win any time, but I didn’t realize we didn’t win on the road for that long,” Nolan, who was hired on Nov. 13, said. “The guys sure knew. It’s not where we won, but how we won last night.
“I thought it was a real total team effort from the 20th guy to our goaltenders, right through the lineup, everybody contributed. Since I’ve been here, it was probably the best win as a team that we had.”
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The Sabres next take on the Philadelphia Flyers at home on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NBCSN. After the game, Buffalo will travel to Toronto for a Wednesday night match against the Maple Leafs at 7:30 p.m.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
32 John Scott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
17 Linus Omark – 23 Ville Leino – 65 Brian Flynn
82 Marcus Foligno – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 3 Mark Pysyk
6 Mike Weber – 52 Alexander Sulzer
44 Brayden McNabb – 4 Jamie McBain
57 Tyler Myers
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth