And so it goes.
The Buffalo Sabres, who are already missing two defensemen, lost another one just minutes into last night's game as Jake McCabe slammed into the boards and suffered a shoulder injury. As of right now there's no word on it's severity although we do know that he came back to the bench in the first period and saw one shift late in the first period but went to the dressing room and the last we saw of McCabe was a tweeted photo of him leaving KeyBank Center with his arm in a sling.
With McCabe out, Zach Bogosian became Buffalo's No. 2 defenseman and logged 29:51 minutes of ice-time, a number he hadn't seen since late-March, 2015 while in Winnipeg. The wily veteran of over 500 NHL games held his own and finished a plus-1 in Buffalo's 3-2 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings last night.
McCabe's absence also meant increased ice-time for Cody Franson (22:36,) Justin Falk (18:23) and Taylor Fedun (16:33) but the lion's share went to top Sabres' d-man Rasmus Ristolainen who played a whopping 35:24 in the overtime affair. According to sabres.com, no defenseman had seen that amount of ice-time since Ottawa's Erik Karlsson logged over 36 minutes on December 20, 2015. Ristolainen finished the night with an assist and was a plus-1.
With McCabe out, the Sabres called up rookie Casey Nelson who was in the lineup for the season opener and also had a stint in November as well..
Nelson was on the ice in the 4-1 season-opening loss for the Sabres while Dmitry Kulikov recovered from a back/tail-bone injury but was on the bench for the Sabres ensuing four-game road-trip and was returned to Rochester. When injuries hit again he was called up and played in a rather forgettable seven games for the Sabres with zero points and a minus-3 rating. It was quite the departure from what he was able to accomplish for Buffalo last season. Nelson was signed after leaving Minnesota State and began his career with a three-game point streak registering four assists. He finished with a line of zero goals, four assists and was a plus-1.
The Montreal Canadiens more than likely have their knife and fork in hand and are ready to feast. Les Habitants are running away with the division with an NHL seventh best goals/game average at 3.00.
Fedun and Falk have done yeoman's work in Buffalo while trying to hold the fort for regulars Kulikov and Josh Gorges. They're not without their fair share of miscues, however, but generally speaking they're performing well for the Sabres.
Both play different styles and the chemistry they had as a paring in Rochester has transferred well to Buffalo. Falk is a rugged defensive-defenseman who has three assists and has an even plus/minus rating while the puck-moving Fedun has six assists (three on the second powerplay unit) and is a plus-3. Fedun has not looked out of place and the 28 yr. old who's played in only 29 NHL games for four different organizations in the past four years may have earned himself a spot on the Sabres roster when all's said and done.
But having yet another rookie in the lineup on the back end could in Nelson be troublesome for the Sabres, especially when they're playing the second of a back-to-back, and head coach Dan Bylsma will probably, once again, lean heavily on his vets.
Ristolainen seems to have gotten over a mini-slump that came to the fore just over a week ago when the Sabres played at Carolina and at Tampa back-to-back. He's been a workhorse for the club all season and will be asked to provide a herculean performance once again. Bogosian will need to step up as well and so will Franson, who needs to ditch the one crucial goal-against gaffe he seems to give up on an almost nightly basis.
Up-front the Sabres are getting back to full health. Tyler Ennis came back on Monday but didn't play in the second of a back-to-back on Tuesday. The Sabres beat Dallas with him and lost to Toronto without him. Ennis is not 100% but even so Buffalo's team-speed has increased noticeably. Center Jack Eichel looks as if he's moving past the affects of the high-ankle sprain he suffered the day before the season opener and is skating real well. He had two assists last night to go along with six shots on goal he logged last night. With any decent passing from the other four players with him on the ice last night he could have upped those numbers.
Last night it looked as if the back spasms Ryan O'Reilly that have been bothering him for most of the season have abated. O'Reilly abused Wings defenseman Danny Dekeyser on the game-tying goal just minutes after Detroit took the lead. He entered the zone with a head of steam and out-battled Dekeyser in the corner by throwing him aside. After corralling the puck he circled around the net and lofted a sharp backhand to tie the score 2-2. It's worth another look (thx, sabres.com):
O'Reilly has the ability to will a goal or a play and in-turn change the nature of a game. Back in December with the Sabres down 2-0 against Los Angeles, he single-handedly changed the momentum with a play that said "I won't be denied." (thx, samboke):
It was the first of four unanswered goals in a span of 6:13 that propelled Buffalo to a 6-3 win.
Last night's win against Detroit was Buffalo's fifth of the month, which ties both November and December for season-high and was their fourth in a row at home which extends a season high. With the two points the Sabres inched to within two points and two other teams (Tampa and New Jersey) clumped in the middle of the division and Buffalo has games in hand on all three. Unfortunately the Sabres have been a mess on the road this month going 1-3-1 so far.
Yesterday's win was the first one over a team in the division that the Sabres were chasing since defeating Detroit on December 27. Since then they dropped four in a row to divisional foes and it's one of the main reasons they haven't been able to get out of the basement.
Tonight represents a huge challenge for the club as they face the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens that surely has noticed the challenges Buffalo is facing on defense and it will take a herculean effort from every player including Robin Lehner, who should be in goal for Buffalo tonight.