Sunday, February 5, 2017

"It's a playoff atmosphere for us from here on out."

Published by, 2-4-2017

Thus spoke Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges as he's ready to return to the lineup for the first time since January 7 when he was sidelined with a hip injury.

Both he and fellow defenseman Jake McCabe were cleared to play and will jump right into the fire without going through a practice with the team. Granted, this is will be Buffalo's 51st game of the season so the duo should be well versed in their jobs and this will be the Sabres fourth meeting with the Ottawa Senators so they should to expect from their Atlantic Division rival.

Getting into something resembling game-shape was the big hurdle for Gorges and McCabe, as well as the countless others that have had to come back from injury. February is a particularly busy month as Buffalo plays 14 games in the shortest month of the year plus will have their bye-week later in month. Practice time will be scarce so the Sabres relied upon rehab specialist Dennis Miller.

Jourdon LaBarber of writes that Miller rehabbing involves "battle drills," something we've been hearing quite often but never associating a name with. LaBarber quotes Gorges as saying this about Miller, ""The old school mentality of stand on the line and coach with a whistle and a stop watch and say 'go,' and you keep skating and skating and skating, that might get your lungs ready but playing hockey is so much different than straight-line skating back and forth.

"I think Dennis, he does such a great job of not only what I need as a player, but specific to me as a defenseman. He factors in all these different things so he gets you ready so when you're back you're ready to step right back in again."

And they're gonna need it.

Despite Buffalo's 2-0-1 record this season against Ottawa, playing the Senators is always a battle. All three games this year have been decided by one goal as were two of four last season. The Sabres beat Ottawa 2-1 in early November and lost 2-1 in the shootout four days later. Both games were played while Jack Eichel was on the injured list. Eichel came back for the last game of November and help skate Buffalo to a 5-4 win with a goal and an assists in his 2016-17 debut. Ryan O'Reilly had two goals and an assist in that game as well.

O'Reilly spent some time on the injured list as did winger Evander Kane, but the forward ranks, at least in the top nine are about as healthy as they've been all season long. Unfortunatley the injury troubles the forwards had has shifted to the defense-corps.

Although the Sabres are getting Gorges and McCabe back, Zach Bogosian injured his ribs in the first period on Thursday night. Buffalo played with five defenseman against a very fast and highly skilled NY Rangers team and almost pulled it off as they came from  behind in the third period but ended up falling in overtime, 2-1.

I guess one out but two back in is better than the other way around. With the return of Gorges and McCabe, the Sabres now have one extra defenseman and head coach Dan Bylsma chose to sit Taylor Fedun who's done yeoman's work for the entirety of 2017 thus far. Bylsma's keeping Justin Falk in the lineup and he'll be playing his off side opposite Gorges according to the projected lineup for Rasmus Ristolainen and Dmitry Kulikov will continue on the top pairing while McCabe will be on the left and Cody Franson on the right in the second pairing.

The Sabres suffered another injury up front as Will Carrier went down with a knee injury, according to Bylsma, but Buffalo called up the red hot Justin Bailey from Rochester.

Bailey has been on a tear for the Amerks since mid-December when he started a seven-game goal streak which featured his first NHL goal against Henrik Lundqvist and the NY Rangers while he was on a call-up right in the middle of the streak. His 19 goals leads the Amerks and places him tied for fifth overall in the American Hockey League.

Bylsma had nothing but great things to say about Bailey as he spoke with the gathered media today.  He acknowledged with definitive nods that Bailey has been dominating the AHL then talked about the 21 yr. old power forward's game. "You saw it when he was last with us," said the coach, "the speed he showed on the forecheck against the Rangers, the turnover and getting his goal .Also late in that game you saw his speed up the ice and his ability to sling the puck at the net. He beat Lundqvist for a second time but hit the post.

"If you watched his last few games in Rochester, it's six, seven, eight times a game he's [with] his speed and his ability to put pressure on teams with that speed, he's a force."

No one knows how much of that he'll be able to use as Bylsma has Bailey on the fourth line with defenseman-turned-winger-turned fourth-line center in Nicolas Deslauriers and Tyler Ennis, but he'll need to make the best of what time he's given by playing the way that got him noticed.

The rest of the forward lines look to be the same, according to


Robin Lehner gets the nod in net.

With 32 games left to play and a lot of work to be done just to get into the middle of a clump of playoff hopefuls, there's no time like the present to get the ball rolling. Buffalo's on a three-game winless skid (0-2-1) and time's a wastin'.

To rivals going at it at Key Bank center with the home team (hopefully) desperate for a win should make for a playoff atmosphere in Buffalo. Which is the way it should be at this time of year.

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