The anticipation is growing for the Sabres’ season opener Thursday. Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo have to get through Wednesday first.
If they don’t, Buffalo could be missing two of its most important pieces when 2016-17 gets underway.
O’Reilly (back, midsection) and Okposo (bruised knee) were unable to practice again Tuesday, though they skated on their own in KeyBank Center. O’Reilly stuck around long enough to take part in a power-play walkthrough, but the center wasn’t healthy enough for contact.
O’Reilly plans to be a full participant during Wednesday’s workout, but Okposo is questionable.
“It’s day-to-day right now,” O’Reilly said. “We’ve got to be smart. We’ll see how it is with contact and playing with the guys and go from there.”
O’Reilly left his only preseason game last Wednesday after suffering spasms.
“In the morning skate I started to feel something in my abdomen, which I usually do, and just kind of think something wasn’t firing properly right off the faceoff,” O’Reilly said. “Something just didn’t feel right, and it was tough to come back.”
Even if O’Reilly plays in Thursday’s opener against Montreal, he’s expected to be limited. Only three players in the NHL took more faceoffs than O’Reilly last season, but the injury will prevent him from taking draws.
“It’s something you deal with every second you’re on the ice, exacerbated when you’re taking a draw and you’re locking horns with another guy,” Bylsma said. “It’s safe to say we won’t see him take a faceoff for another few days, for sure, but he is getting better.”
Okposo took a slap shot off his knee during practice Oct. 3. He appears more of a long shot to play than O’Reilly.
“He is getting better each day,” Bylsma said. “He also really hasn’t skated for eight days, nine days now. That is a concern about that situation.”
The good news for the Sabres was the reappearance of defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian. Kulikov skated with the team for the first time since suffering a butt bruise Sept. 30. Bogosian strained his groin Sept. 29.
Both are expected to play Thursday.
“It feels good,” said Kulikov, who was checked into the door of the Toronto bench. “It’s just unfortunate the first preseason game getting hurt, then you’re in the medical room all the time and not getting to know your new teammates.”
The Sabres submitted their 23-man roster along with the other 29 NHL teams. Derek Grant, Hudson Fasching and Casey Nelson made it. Alexander Nylander and Brendan Guhle did not. The list:
Forwards – Nicolas Deslauriers, Jack Eichel, Tyler Ennis, Fasching, Marcus Foligno, Brian Gionta, Zemgus Girgensons, Grant, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Matt Moulson, Okposo, O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart.
Defense – Bogosian, Cody Franson, Josh Gorges, Kulikov, Jake McCabe, Nelson and the newly signed Rasmus Ristolainen.
Goalies – Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson.
Grant, signed during the summer, made the team after starring during the preseason. Fasching also had his moments and was helped by the uncertain status of fellow right wing Okposo.
Nylander, the Sabres’ first-round pick in June, will report to Rochester. The 18-year-old is eligible to play in the American Hockey League because he is European, even though he spent last year in Canada’s junior system. Nicholas Baptiste, Daniel Catenacci and Justin Falk will also join the Amerks.
The Sabres sent Guhle back to his junior team.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma announced a long-awaited tweak to his power play. Eichel will rotate to the left faceoff circle, allowing him to better use his slap shot.
“I’m excited about what the power play can be with Jack on his off side,” Bylsma said. “We have a chance to be an electric and a dynamic power-play unit with the guys we have out there.”