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Notes from Friday's practice

McCabe reacts to healthy scratch; Foligno out for final two games

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Wednesday was a bit of a mixed bag for Jake McCabe. On one hand, he was named the Buffalo Sabres' Unsung Hero for the season, a recognition that takes on more meaning when you consider it was voted upon by his teammates. 

Placing a cloud over that award, however, was the realization that McCabe would sit as a healthy in that night's game against Montreal, a decision that was preceded by back-to-back losses in which he committed defensive-zone turnovers that led directly to goals against. 

Following Buffalo's final practice of the season on Friday, McCabe said he understood why the decision was made.

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Sabres hope to rebound for fans in final home game

Okposo remains absent; Players react to Olympic decision

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Robin Lehner said he could feel it right from puck drop. The Buffalo Sabres simply didn't have the same gear that the Toronto Maple Leafs had to begin their game on Monday night, and what followed was a first period that Lehner said was as bad any they've had all season.

By the time six minutes had passed in the game, the Sabres already trailed 3-0 and Lehner had been pulled. 

"They came out with a goal and we didn't really have one," Lehner said. "It's a skilled team over there, good players and they came out with a goal." 

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With Okposo ill, Smith to make NHL debut on Sunday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

We've already covered the busy first day in the NHL for C.J. Smith, one that included signing his entry-level contract, taking a physical, participating in his first professional practice and then, to top it all off, taking an online exam an hour later. 

It was so much, Smith barely had a chance to enjoy it.

"It was extremely overwhelming," Smith said. "I didn't really get to soak it in as much as I would've liked to but yeah, it was awesome."

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'Blue-collar' identity brought Smith to Buffalo

Franson returns to practice; Reinhart explains violation

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

C.J. Smith had a crowd of reporters waiting for him when he walked into the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room following practice on Thursday afternoon. Not even a week removed from his final collegiate game, he had taken his physical in the morning, met his teammates, participated in his first NHL practice and now had to answer questions about all of it. 

To put it all of that in perspective, consider this: Smith had to take an online exam one hour later.

"It's a bit of a whirlwind," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "We introduced him to the team and we told him that afterwards, in addition to his 2 o'clock test, he'd have to remember all the guys' names."

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Ennis, Kulikov were 'at their best' against Toronto

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

With seven games left in the regular season for the Buffalo Sabres, the remaining time serves as an opportunity for the team to continue to prove to themselves exactly what level they're capable of playing at. They did that on Saturday night, winning 5-2 against a Toronto Maple Leafs team still fighting to maintain a spot in the postseason. 

The same is true on an individual level, particularly for players like Tyler Ennis and Dmitry Kulikov.  Both have dealt with injuries and therefore inconsistency this season and are looking to end on a positive note.

Ennis and Kulikov both enjoyed their first multi-point outings of the season on Saturday, and both returned to significant roles - Ennis on the top line and Kulikov on the top defensive pair - for practice at HarborCenter on Sunday.

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Sabres react to Ristolainen's suspension

Falk returns from injury

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

For the first time in nearly two full years, the Buffalo Sabres will take the ice for a game without Rasmus Ristolainen in their lineup when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. After that, they'll do it twice more. 

Ristolainen was suspended three games on Thursday for his hit against Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel, a decision that left many of Ristolainen's teammates surprised following practice on Friday.

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Okposo among trio of players to return to practice

Ristolainen awaiting hearing for hit on Guentzel

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

All at once, the Buffalo Sabres looked a whole lot healthier when they took the ice for practice at HarborCenter on Thursday morning. Kyle Okposo, William Carrier and Dmitry Kulikov all practiced with the team for the first time since sustaining their respective injuries. 

Not only that, but - barring any potential setbacks - all three players will practice again on Friday and should be ready to play when the Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. 

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As more injuries hit, Ristolainen sees more ice time

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak / Sabres.com

The Buffalo Sabres have seen their share of injuries on the blue line this season. They've been in situations where they've needed multiple emergency recalls and it looks like that's the case once again.

Buffalo practiced with four defensemen at HarborCenter on Sunday before flying out to Detroit for a Monday night game against the Red Wings. Cody Franson, Taylor Fedun, Justin Falk and Dmitry Kulikov were all absent from the skate due to injury. While coach Dan Bylsma declared each player "day to day," it's unlikely that any of them will play in Detroit.

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Sabres set out to prove themselves over final stretch

Falk, Bailey miss practice due to injury

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

LOS ANGELES - In the last two games alone, the Buffalo Sabres have showed both the type of play that has allowed them to compete with any team in the League at times this season (in the last two periods against Columbus on Saturday) and also the type of play that has prevented them from establishing any sort of consistency (in San Jose on Tuesday).

With 12 games remaining on their schedule, the aim for the Sabres going forward after a practice in El Segundo, Calif. on Wednesday is proving to themselves that they can play the way they did against Columbus day in and day out.

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Fasching expected to join lineup during 3-game trip

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

SAN JOSE - When we last saw Hudson Fasching with the Buffalo Sabres, he was leaving the ice with a groin injury early during a game in Winnipeg. That was on Oct. 30, a mere six games into the season. Fasching, a first-year pro, had made the team out of training camp. 

In the four and a half months since, Fasching's rookie season has been marred by that same injury. What was initially prescribed as a short-term ailment revealed itself to be worse, and as a result he's been limited to just 25 games for Rochester.

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