Friday, November 17, 2017

Injuries on defense continue to mount for Sabres. Two Amerks recalled

Published by, 11-16-2017

Although the news isn't quite as earth-shattering as the Buffalo Bills going to their backup quarterback while still in a playoff spot, for Western New York hockey fans, the injuries hitting the Buffalo Sabres is becoming more of an issue. The Sabres announced today that defenseman Taylor Fedun was placed on injured reserve (out 6-8 weeks, according to reports from today's practice) and that defenseman Matt Tennyson was moved to IR from the injured list.

The Sabres have been getting hit hard by injuries on defense and have already dressed 10 defensemen just 18 games into this season. Zach Bogosian, who has yet to play this season, remains on IR while their top defender, Rasmus Ristolainen, suffered an upper body injury on November 2 and was also placed on IR. Justin Falk missed the first the first 12 games of the season while Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges both suffered injuries that placed them on the injured list.

To help fill the holes in the defense-corps this season, Buffalo brought up Zach Redmond on recall, appearing in three games, while Fedun skated in seven games. Today the Sabres announced that they recalled defenseman Casey Nelson from Rochester. Nelson was a 2016 free agent signing out of Minnesota State and played seven games for Buffalo late that season. He started out his NHL career with a three-game point-streak (4 assists.)

Nelson began last season with the Sabres and played in eight forgetful games through November 15 registering zero points and a minus-4 rating while averaging around 12 minutes of ice-time per game. He came back for two more stints for a total of three games and showed improvement. He began this season in Rochester doing yeoman's work with four points (1+3) and a plus-2 rating in 14 games for the Amerks.

Where Nelson fits in will be determined tomorrow as Falk, according to reports, had a maintenance day at today's practice. According to the Sabres these were the pairings for practice:



The Sabres also recalled forward Kyle Criscuolo who was signed by the Sabres to a two-year, two-way contract on July 1 by GM Jason Botterill.

Criscuolo came over from the Detroit organization after helping their Grand Rapids Griffins to the 2017 Calder Cup Championship. The 25 yr. old graduate of Harvard is tied for Amerks lead in scoring with 11 points (5+6) in 14 games while his plus-4 rating also leads the team.

At the time of the signing, Botterill said that Criscuolo "can play center...plays with a high compete [level] and can play the type of pace that (coach) Phil (Housley) wants to play." The Sabres could use some pace in the bottom-six as that group has struggled mightily thus far. The forward lines at today's practice were:


Head coach Phil Housley told the gathered media today that Criscuolo will be a game-time decision for tomorrow night's game at Detroit.


Nelson and Criscuolo were called up from an Amerks team that's really starting to gel. After a rough start where they went 2-3-0 the Amerks have gotten points in eight of their last nine games while posting a 6-1-2 record. Rochester has outscored their opponents 33-25 during that stretch and the Amerks now find themselves second in the AHL's North Division.

Botterill got the ball moving in Rochester by making some July 1 moves strictly related to fortifying a franchise that had been neglected the past few years. He brought in center Kevin Porter from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization as captain to anchor the revival in Rochester. Once the Penguins AGM, Botterill ran their AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and saw what Porter had to offer."He's a player I'm very familiar with," said Botterill of Porter. "[He] was a strong leader for Wilkes-Barre over the past couple of years, but also was a player, especially two years ago, that (Penguins head coach) Mike Sullivan really trusted at the National Hockey League level."

With Porter and Criscuolo in the fold, Rochester was eventually handed over to Botterill's AGM, Randy Sexton, who is the general manager of the Amerks. Sexton began adding more players and more depth with signings like defenseman Stuart Percy and forward Sahir Gill (both from Wilkes-Barre) along with right wing Steve Moses (KHL) to help anchor the club. The goal was to build a winning culture and simultaneously provide an atmosphere where their young players can develop properly.

Only a handful of Sabres draft picks are in Rochester right now and that includes Brendan Guhle. With all the injuries on defense, many believe the Sabres top blueline prospect could be with the big club right now, at least on a temporary basis. But word out of Rochester is that the team is intent upon developing him the right way.

From a Let's Go Amerks tweet, Rochester head coach Chris Taylor had this to say about Guhle:

"He understands the process of it. Does he want to be a guy that goes up for one or two games or does he want to be a guy when he goes up, he's going to be there forever? He's got to understand that and that's what the best interest here is for him. That's what we have for every player (their best interest) and him especially. He's still learning. He's still making a lot of mistakes. We don't want to ruin his confidence. One of those mistakes up in the NHL is in the back of the net. We're being patient with him and he's understanding that. That's why he's still playing well right now with us."

That thought process should come as no surprise to any hockey fan in Western New York as Botterill is following through with what he said he'd do. All along he's been saying that he wants, needs, Rochester to be a winning environment that will allow the youngins to develop properly. It's what he saw in Pittsburgh during his 10 years with the organization and what he wants in the Buffalo organization.

The short-term pain in Buffalo will hopefully be a long-term gain for the entire Sabres organization.

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