Two players were absent when the Buffalo Sabres took the ice for practice at HARBORCENTER on Thursday afternoon and we'll have to wait and see if they'll be available for Friday night's game against the Ottawa Senators. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma called Thursday "slightly more than a maintenance day" for both goaltender Robin Lehner and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo
"They're getting evaluated today," Bylsma said. "We'll see what it means for tomorrow and going forward."
Lehner sat for a maintenance day last Friday and Chad Johnson started the following afternoon against Carolina. Lehner returned to start against Montreal on Wednesday and played the entirety of the team's overtime loss, but Bylsma said both of his recent absences have been due to lingering effects of the high ankle sprain that cost him the first half of his season.
"Having the high ankle sprain, it's an injury that probably doesn’t leave you for a good two-and-a-half months," Bylsma said. "So, has he felt it ever since he came back and to this point? He has. It's just the nature of the injury and dealing with it. A couple times he's jammed it into the post and felt it a little more."
Colaiacovo, meanwhile, played 10:24 in the loss to Montreal. The Sabres have no extra defensemen. Goaltender Jason Kasdorf, who signed an entry-level contract on Monday, has not yet practiced as he nurses a groin injury, so a call-up would be considered depending on what happens with Lehner and Colaiacovo.
LEGWAND'S PRESENCE MAKING AN IMPACT
The play was the embodiment of a veteran move: With his team down a goal and mid-way through a four-minute penalty kill in the third period on Wednesday, David Legwand saw a window of opportunity open up. He bought time to allow his team to change, saw Marcus Foligno burst off the bench while Montreal drifted off the ice and hit Foligno with a long pass. That set the stage for Foligno to score the game-tying goal.
The 35-year-old center has been a rock on a Sabres penalty kill this season and while he's been sturdy on defense, he's also been able to generate some offense while down a man. His most memorable moment as a Sabre came when he scored shorthanded from deep in his own zone on Feb. 19 at Columbus.
It's just not being able to make the play that's important, he said. It's knowing when the time is right.
"You've got to have time and patience," Legwand said. "You've got to know when to make a play and when not to make a play. Obviously our main objective out there is to kill a penalty and not score a goal, but last night we had a chance there and Marcus got a chance to bury one and he did. It turned the game a little bit and obviously finishing the kill off was the most important thing."
Take a look at Legwand's stat line from the game against Montreal. And you'll see the perfect example of the role he's carved out on Buffalo's fourth line this season. He played 11:21 of ice time, 6:01 of which came on the kill. Montreal scored one power-play goal, but not with him on the ice. He also won six of 10 draws and finished with a plus-1 rating.
Bylsma attributes Buffalo's ascension on the penalty kill from being a basement dweller in the first month of the season to being ranked 14th as of Thursday largely in part to Legwand's presence on the ice. But he's made an equal impact behind the scenes.
"Both faceoff-wise, penalty kill-wise, we go over the faceoffs at the morning skate every day," Bylsma said. "We have a scout on the players, we know who we go against, but really David has his own book on each guy with his experience and he goes over each player, each tendency with our centermen.
"Really, it's the same on the penalty kill. His experience, his intelligence, his knowledge is something we lean on as a group."
Legwand has embraced the role of mentor to the younger players. For as much as he knows about opponents' tendencies, he also knows as a former second-overall draft pick and a 17-year veteran that there will be ups and downs in a season, something he tries to convey to the rookies on the team.
Legwand says he's trying to help build a winning culture in Buffalo, and he's doing it with positivity. It's common to see him laughing and chatting with teammates whether it's on the ice or in the dressing room. Young players like Jack Eichel smile when they talk about him.
When Legwand talked about his role this season, he was smiling too.
"It's been awesome," he said. "I think obviously with a young group and those types of things, the three or four older guys that we have here have leaned on those guys, too. They're youthful and energetic and exciting every day. I hear them come in and what they did yesterday and those types of things. It's fun."
MAKING THE MOST OUT OF SHOTS
The Sabres outshot the Canadiens 43-22 on Wednesday, an impressive margin, but still weren’t able to come away with a win. With the loss, they fell to 8-18-4 on the season when outshooting their opponent.
"What we talked about today during our meeting is, we don’t think we got enough net-front presence," Bylsma said. "We got opportunities, but I don’t think we got enough net-front opportunities. It's something, probably as a result is how many times we've scored a goal."
Zach Bogosian, who scored and put a game-high eight shots on net Wednesday, agreed with his coach.
"We've just got to keep shooting more," he said. "Maybe just try to bear down a little more, bang home those rebounds. There aren't a lot of shots that are going to beat the goalie clean way out from the blue line; there's got to be people in front tipping the front or getting the screen."
The Sabres will take on the Ottawa Senators for the fourth and final time this season on Friday night at First Niagara Center. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV, and the game can also be heard live on WGR 550.