With injuries continuing to nip at the Buffalo Sabres’ forward corps, Williamsville native Justin Bailey finally got the call to his hometown team Wednesday afternoon.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound right winger earned his first NHL recall and is expected to make his NHL debut Thursday night in Philadelphia. Zemgus Girgensons, who has missed three games with a lower-body injury, went on injured reserve to make room for Bailey.
Bailey, 20, has played 47 games in his first pro season at Rochester, ranking second among the Amerks in goals (10) and fourth in points (23). He is the team leader in shots on goal with 104. Bailey spent much of the last two months playing on a line with Cal O’Reilly but has blossomed in recent games on a line with Tim Schaller and William Carrier, the winger acquired from St. Louis in the 2014 trade for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott.
Bailey is coming off a huge weekend for the Amerks, with back-to-back multi-point games topped by a three-point outburst in Saturday’s 4-0 win at Binghamton.
Bailey was a second-round pick of the Sabres in 2013. He had 76 goals and 148 points in 168 games over three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with Kitchener and Sault Ste. Marie. He totaled 34 goals and 69 points last year, when he was traded from Kitchener to the Soo and helped the Greyhounds get to the conference finals before losing to Connor McDavid-led Erie in six games.
The recall of Bailey was announced a couple of hours after the Sabres completed a brief practice in HarborCenter that lasted about 35 minutes.
Assuming he makes his debut Thursday, Bailey would become the fourth Buffalo-area native to play for the Sabres and join a short list that includes current Rochester teammate Patrick Kaleta, Tim Kennedy and Scott Thomas. Former Nichols School star Peter Ciavaglia, who played five games for the Sabres in the early 1990s, was born in Albany.
Girgensons and Johan Larsson missed practice Wednesday, although it’s possible that Larsson will play Thursday. Jack Eichel also was off the ice for what coach Dan Bylsma termed a maintenance day but the coach said Eichel, who was struck in the leg by a shot late in Tuesday’s game against Florida, should be fine.
“That’s part of it,” Bylsma said when asked about the shot. “He’s just got a couple bumps and bruises. The shot block he seems to be fine from.”
Defenseman Jake McCabe played wing in Tuesday’s game and did a good job for a player who had not played the position since he was in youth hockey.
McCabe played 9:34, had three shots on goal, three hits and an even rating in a game where nine of his teammates were minus-2 or worse.
“It was nice to be on the forecheck and hit a defenseman, like I go back and get hit with their forecheckers,” said a smiling McCabe. “It was different. I just wanted to provide energy out there and keep the game simple, skate around, bang bodies and that’s what I tried to do.
“I liked the way he skated forward, forechecked a couple times, went out to the point and dumped a defenseman on his butt,” Bylsma said. “He asked today what I wanted him to play and I said, ‘You’re a defenseman, Jake.’ ”
McCabe said he met assistant Dave Barr before the game to go over positioning up front and felt more comfortable as the game went along.
“It’s definitely different when you have to go out there and really think about the systems and think about, “All right, where am I supposed to be, where am I supposed to go?,’ ” McCabe said. “After a few shifts, I got more in a rhythm.”
The seven goals the Sabres gave up Tuesday to Florida equaled the season high for a Buffalo opponent and created some ugly plus-minus figures. Ryan O’Reilly, Rasmus Ristolainen and Jamie McGinn were all minus-4 while Sam Reinhart, Nic Deslauriers and Zach Bogosian were minus-3.
Ristolainen is minus-9 in his last seven games while O’Reilly is minus-14 in his last 12 and has dropped all the way to minus-19 for the season – fifth from the bottom in the entire NHL.
“They’re guys I feel have been extremely good and we count on them to play good defense and be good on that side of the puck,” Bylsma said. “You look up and see minus-3, minus-4 situations and psychologically, it’s not a good feeling. It’s kind of weighing on both Rasmus and Ryan a little bit the last eight games or so.”
According to Hockey-Reference.com, Reinhart was the first Sabres player to post a minus-3 rating during a two-goal game in the regular season since Alexander Mogilny did it in a loss to Montreal at Memorial Auditorium on Feb. 26, 1993. Stu Barnes did it in a losing effort during Game Two of the 1999 Eastern Conference final at Toronto.
Former Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth took part in practice with the Flyers Wednesday for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury Feb. 1 but Steve Mason is likely to get his sixth straight start Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Neuvirth has not played since Jan. 27. He is 11-6-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, both career highs. He entered play Wednesday tied for the NHL lead in save percentage with Detroit’s Petr Mrazek and eighth in goals-against average.