It was bound to turn around at some point. The Buffalo Sabres watched as player after player got hurt and left the lineup. Finally, most of those players are getting healthy and coming back.
Paul Gaustad and Henrik Tallinder returned to the lineup Thursday night against Tampa Bay. Captain Craig Rivet practiced with his teammates in the morning for the first time since his knee surgery. It gave the Sabres their inaugural full squad of the regular season.
"It's good to see we're slowly getting healthy and getting some bodies back," coach Lindy Ruff said in HSBC Arena.
Gaustad's comeback after missing the opening nine games with a thumb injury was expected. Tallinder's return was a surprise. Ruff had said the defenseman was likely out until the weekend with a cut on his ankle that rubbed on the leather of his skate. But Tallinder got an assist from the equipment staff.
"He's feeling much better, and we made some adjustments with his equipment that's made him more comfortable," Ruff said.
Rivet is one to three weeks from getting back in a game, but his return to the ice was just as welcome. It was his first day in pads since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Oct. 22. He skated on his own in sweatpants the previous two days.
"I've never had this before, but I would say definitely ahead of schedule," Rivet said. "I'm feeling pretty good. Just with the skate today, it wasn't real hard, but a real solid first day, and we'll be looking to improve off that.
"They're saying this is the type of injury that's going to take two to four weeks, and I'm only a week in. I'm pretty happy with the way it's felt the past couple of days."
Centers Tim Connolly (back) and Jochen Hecht (finger) are practicing but aren't expected back until next week at the earliest.
Mike Weber said the only thing he can do is play well enough to force the coaches to make a decision in his favor. He did it for at least one day.
Weber, called up Monday to replace the injured Tallinder, stayed in the lineup despite the defenseman's return. The Sabres made Nathan Paetsch a healthy scratch.
"It'll help the club if those guys get back as soon as they can, but I control what I can on the ice and play hard, and I can make their decision a little tougher on whether to send me down," Weber said.
Ruff doesn't want to carry two extra defensemen. Weber could go back to Portland today or could continue to make his case until Rivet returns.
No matter what, Weber is the first player to make the Portland-to-Buffalo journey. As expected, it's different from the Rochester-Buffalo shuttle the organization used for 29 years.
"To get called up was pretty hectic," Weber said. "You have to catch a plane out of Portland, and you've got to fly to Boston or New York City, then up here. It's a little different than last year, you know, hopping in your car and 45 minutes later you're at the rink. But I think it's worth it just to have the great city and have our own team."
Gaustad usually anchors the second power-play group, but that spot will belong to Clarke MacArthur for a while. The center scored his fifth goal of the season against the Lightning.
"Short term, Clarke has done a nice job for us," Ruff said. "That unit has been pretty good, so we don't want to mess with it. But [Gaustad's] home on one of the units is to park himself there [in front], and he got pretty good at redirecting."