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Sabres Notebook: Guhle, Criscuolo get the call; Okposo struggling at minus-29, Johnson in net

A couple of hours after coach Phil Housley held his daily post-practice media briefing Sunday in KeyBank Center, the Sabres made a couple of surprise callups from the Rochester Amerks. It's uncertain what impact the arrival of defenseman Brendan Guhle and forward Kyle Criscuolo will be for Monday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Defenseman Marco Scandella, who missed the final two periods Friday in Florida, practiced fully on Sunday and did not look hindered by the upper-body ailment he suffered taking a tumble into the boards in that game. All seven blueliners were on the ice at practice. Guhle may simply be a better option against the Leafs' speedy forwards.

"I went in pretty awkwardly last game and didn't feel too good," Scandella said of the hit by Florida's Nick Bjugstad. "But it's progressing day to day so I felt like I could skate today. Went out there, felt pretty good."

Scandella, acquired in a summer trade, has yet to play in a Sabres-Leafs game and said he's intrigued to compare the rivalry to Minnesota-Chicago battles he's been in the last few years.

"I've been waiting all year for this game," he said. "I know there's a huge rivalry with the Leafs. We haven't played them all year. I've been on the team for 65 games and we haven't played them yet so I've been itching for this one."

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Guhle, the organization's top defense prospect, recorded his first NHL point with an assist during a two-game run with the Sabres in January. The 20-year-old has eight goals and 16 assists in 47 games at Rochester.

With Evan Rodrigues still not back from his upper-body injury suffered Wednesday in Tampa, Benoit Pouliot was out of position at center on Sunday. Housley indicated after practice the team was not calling up a forward, but that decision was apparently reconsidered.

Criscuolo leads the Amerks with 15 goals and is tied for second on the team with 34 points, including 10 in his last 10 games. He did not have a point in eight games with the Sabres earlier this season.

The Amerks were playing at home Sunday against Laval but don't play again until Friday, when they open a three-games-in-three-days-set at home against Providence.

* * *

Plus-minus can be an admittedly fickle stat at times. But when it's an extreme, it can be a window into a player's season. That's where things stand right now with winger Kyle Okposo.

It's been a struggle offensively for Okposo this year with just 11 goals and an even bigger problem defensively at a minus-29 – the worst figure in the league among NHL forwards entering Sunday.

"Frustrating. It's something that's gross. Absolutely gross," Okposo said. "It's something where, whether the goal is my fault or not, it just seems like it's been going in this year. It's something I wanted to get better at. It's something that is very disappointing for me, something that I want to change, I want to fix. I've got 17 games left and I want to be a plus player the rest of the way."

Okposo was only minus-7 in 65 games for the Sabres last season and hasn't been below minus-10 since posting a minus-15 for the New York Islanders in 2011-12.

"Just his awareness defensively and having a respect away from our net defensively has got to be better," said Housley. "I'm sure he's thinking about that but he's got to go out and show it. He's pretty hard on himself so I think he'll be able to respond in the right way."

Okposo has just two goals in his last 15 games and is minus-12 in that stretch. He was minus-2 in Friday's 4-1 loss in Florida, the fourth time in the last 10 games he's been minus-2 or worse, and failed to corral Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson on a goal that opened the scoring just 85 seconds into the game.

"My number is what it is. I own that," Okposo said of his rating. "It's not something I'm saying, 'Oh, it's not my fault and whatever.' It's something that's disappointing to me. It sucks being there but I have to try to improve it. I have to try to do everything I can to keep the puck out of my net and put the puck in their net."

* * *

Housley said Chad Johnson will start in goal Monday night. Robin Lehner got the call and took a 4-1 loss Friday in Florida even though Johnson has been red-hot of late, going 5-2 in his last eight outings with a 1.92 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

In his previous two games, Johnson had allowed just one goal apiece in wins over Boston and Tampa Bay. Lehner, meanwhile, is just 1-4-1/3.86/.887 over his last six games and has fallen to 13-24-8 on the season. Johnson is 6-10-3.

"We had a lot of games coming up here and we knew that Chad was playing well but we had to get Robin back in the net," Housley said. "Safe to say Chad will be playing tomorrow. We just wanted to alternate them."

Both goalies are going to see action during a busy week for the club. After Monday's game, the Sabres host Calgary on Wednesday, play Thursday in Ottawa and host Vegas here Saturday afternoon.

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