Even when they get some good news on the injury front, the Buffalo Sabres' bedraggled defense corps can't seem to go a day without finding more trouble.
The scenario continued Sunday in HarborCenter, as Dmitry Kulikov returned to practice for the first time in nearly a month -- just as veteran Josh Gorges was declared out for weeks with a non-displaced fracture of a bone in his foot.
Kulikov is listed as day to day, with a return to the lineup likely coming this week after he has missed 11 games with a back problem. Kulikov is not expected to play Monday night in Washington, but could return when the Sabres host Edmonton Tuesday or stage a return engagment against the Capitals Friday in KeyBank Center.
And there's more on the injury front. Taylor Fedun, who has been reliable on the No. 3 pair and on the power play since his promotion from Rochester, also missed practice after he was banged up on a hit in the third period Saturday against Boston. Coach Dan Bylsma said he's questionable for Monday's game, and Monday morning's recall of free-agent signee Erik Burgdoerfer likely means Fedun is out.
The Sabres dipped into Rochester for just one callup last year, and that was a one-game stint by Chad Ruhwedel. They have already used 10 defensemen this season and they have now made four recalls.
The blueline's tenuous status means that rookie Brendan Guhle, up from juniors on emergency recall, is certain to get into his second NHL game Monday after an impressive debut against the Bruins.
"You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself. You take it one shift at a time and keep enjoying it," said Guhle, who played 16 minutes, 20 seconds in his debut. "It's been a lot of fun. I had a good practice today and I'm excited for tomorrow."
Kulikov's sudden appearance rates as a surprise. He had been skating on his own for about a week and there was no indication his return was close but he looked normal during practice Sunday. He said his condition improved after he received an injection in his back in early November.
Kulikov was injured when he fell into an open bench door during a Sept. 30 exhibition game against Toronto. He played the first 12 games of the regular season, collecting no points and a minus-4 rating before the pain simply became too great to continue.
"It's been bothering me since training camp and it's been getting worse to the point where it's been interfering with day to day life," said Kulikov. "I made a decision to get an injection and it works sometimes right away. Sometimes it takes a couple weeks to work and that's how it was for me. It was just frustrating to wait. I didn't want to miss that much time. I just wanted it to get better so it doesn't affect me in the long run."
Kulikov, who had missed a combined 18 games the last three seasons with Florida, said he has never had back issues during his eight-year NHL career.
"Going through this for the first time, I didn't know how to handle it," he said. "Sometimes it felt good, the next day I woke up and it was worse than ever. There were up and downs but gradually it got better. I've had a tough week, started skating almost eight days ago and making good progress. This is the next step, getting in practice and it feels good. It's day to day now, just getting some practices with the team and getting in the rhythm."
Kulikov skated with Cody Franson in practice Sunday, moving Guhle to the third pair with Justin Falk
Said coach Dan Bylsma of Kulikov: "He's had two good practices off the ice, physicality-wise, and today with the team, which is a great sign."
Bylsma did not have similar good news about Gorges, who was struck by a shot during Thursday's win over the New York Rangers. Gorges tried to skate prior to practice Friday but left the ice and went for multiple sets of X-rays before the fracture was found.
"That's a good thing it's non-displaced," Bylsma said. "That should should allow him to get back in a boot when he can tolerate the pain."
Gorges has one assist and a minus-3 rating in 23 games while averaging 19:27 per game.