MONTREAL − To Rasmus Ristolainen, the thinking is clear: Bring it on.
The Sabres' defenseman was more than spry when talking to reporters prior to Saturday night's game in the Bell Centre. The game against the Montreal Canadiens came less than 24 hours after he played more minutes in a regular-season game than any NHL players has in the last 13 months.
Ristolainen finished the 3-2 overtime victory over Detroit at 35 minutes, 24 seconds − including all 4:34 of OT that was highlighted by killing off a 4-on-3 situation. The figure was more than five minutes over his previous career high, the 30:22 he posted during the Jan. 7 win over Winnipeg.
The added ice time was necessitated by the departure of Jake McCabe with a shoulder injury in the first minute of play. McCabe was replaced as Ristolainen's partner by Justin Falk, who stayed in that slot here Saturday.
It was the highest ice time total for any NHL player since Ottawa's Erik Karlsson played 36:34 at Tampa Bay on Dec. 20, 2015. According to Elias Sports, it was the highest figure any Sabre has logged since the NHL started tracking ice times in 1999, and it was the 10th-highest in the league over that stretch.
"I felt pretty good. On the PK, you don't need to move too much there," Ristolainen said. "You just hold your position so it's not too bad. It's what you work out for in the summer time, so I'm ready for that."
Asked if he felt like he had played 35 minutes, Ristolainen said, "I knew it was somewhere around 30." Told that coach Dan Bylsma was probably going to call on him for 28-30 minutes a night as long as McCabe is injured, Ristolainen said, "It's not my call. It's about the coaches. I try to be ready for the game, play my best game and earn the ice time like everyone else."
Bylsma laughed when asked what his plans were for Ristolainen, initially saying, "35 more."
"Rasmus answer to me is that's why you train in the summer time," Bylsma said, unaware Ristolainen had just told reporters that minutes before. "He trains extremely hard, has got the capability to have the workload and I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have 30 minutes again tonight."
Bylsma had no update on McCabe's condition, saying the Buffalo defenseman was still being examined back home late into Saturday afternoon. Two sources have told The News that McCabe has at least a mild shoulder separation and the Sabres were still trying to determine the injury's severity.
With McCabe down, Buffalo recalled Casey Nelson from Rochester. Nelson had played eight games earlier this season, collecting no points and a minus-4 rating while looking overwhelmed by the NHL level at times.
Even though he had a minus-14 rating in Rochester, Nelson said the time in the AHL has helped boost his confidence. That's especially true over the last three weeks.
"Since I've gotten back from Christmas break, it's been a new level," Nelson said before the game. "It was kind of a mental shutdown there. Couldn't really handle it. But these minutes I've gotten in Rochester have really helped. I have a lot of confidence right now."
After making 27 saves on 28 shots at even strength in Friday's overtime win over Detroit, Anders Nilsson improved his ES save percentage to .938, which rates third in the league. ... Jack Eichel entered Saturday leading the league in shots on goal per game at 4.2. He entered Saturday with 22 in his previous three games ... Former Sabres accounted for 26 goals and 25 assists for the Habs coming into the game. Paul Byron was at 13-14-27, Torrey Mitchell was at 7-7-14 and Brian Flynn 6-4-10.