The Sabres’ defensive shuffle will continue Friday. For once, it’s because players are coming back.
Dmitry Kulikov is expected to play against Washington after missing 13 games with a back injury. There’s a chance he’ll be joined by Josh Gorges, who also practiced fully in KeyBank Center despite having a nondisplaced fracture in his foot.
“I’m at the point where it’s feeling good and I can play now,” Kulikov said Thursday. “It’s been a long time. I’ve had a couple practices with the team, been skating on my own for more than a week now, and I feel ready. I feel healthy.”
Gorges’ appearance was a surprise. He has missed three games and was slated to be out longer, but he says putting the foot in a skate feels the same as putting it in a walking boot. The issue now is pain tolerance.
“I feel like I could” play Friday, Gorges said. “You could get hit in the same spot again and potentially make it worse, but I could get hit on my other foot – which is completely fine – and have a chance of breaking that one, too.
“Maybe it’s a little more heightened chance of reoccurrence or something happening, and that’s something I have to talk to the doctors and medical staff about, weigh out the risk-versus-reward factor.”
With at least one of the players coming back, the Sabres have returned defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer to Rochester. The 27-year-old played the first two games of his NHL career, recording two shots and a minus-1 rating while averaging 11:10 of ice time.
If Gorges and Kulikov both come back, it would mean the end of Brendan Guhle’s time in Buffalo. The 19-year-old is on an emergency recall from juniors.
“He could not be an emergency recall with healthy players,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Guhle has looked good during his first three NHL games, firing four shots with a plus-1 rating while skating 16:21 per game.
“A pretty remarkable job for a young kid to step in,” Bylsma said. “Defending-wise, skating-wise, he’s looked cool and calm on the ice with the puck. I thought he’s done a real good job stepping in those games he’s played.”
Nicolas Deslauriers was as rambunctious as ever, throwing checks at Sabres teammates Evander Kane, Cody Franson and Guhle. The left winger needed to see what his body could handle during his first practice since suffering a knee injury Oct. 29.
“It was a good test to get involved a little bit more with the guys,” said Deslauriers, who has missed 19 games. “I felt back to normal.”
Coaches usually want to see more than one practice before reinserting an injured player, but Deslauriers says he’s good to return.
“Now it’s more on Dan’s decision and how he feels about it,” Deslauriers said. “I feel ready. I feel back in shape.”
During the past two games on the top defense pairing, Jake McCabe has averaged 26:19 of ice time while taking six shots and recording an assist. He’s likely earned another game as Rasmus Ristolainen’s partner.
“He’s playing his best hockey for us right now,” Bylsma said. “In terms of defending, I think they’ve been a good pair together against the other teams’ tough guys and top guys.
“He’s a guy who is coming in to be a leader on our team, and that’s how he’s playing on the ice.”
Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen didn’t make the trip because of an upper-body injury and will miss his first game since April 13, 2014. He has nine assists in 25 games.
The Capitals have recalled Aaron Ness from Hershey of the American Hockey League. The 26-year-old defenseman has three goals and nine points in 17 games with the Bears.