This time, Patrick Kaleta wants no setbacks and intends to stay in the lineup. The Angola native is set to return to the ice for the Buffalo Sabres tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it will be just his second appearance in more than a month.
Kaleta suffered a groin injury Nov. 19 against Phoenix that was apparently more severe than anyone thought. He tried to play Dec. 2 against Detroit but was shut down after just 7 1/2 minutes and the Sabres have cautiously nursed him through practices ever since, giving him plenty of days off the ice.
"I'm sick and tired of sitting here watching games," Kaleta said. "And I'm going to do everything in my power to get back in the lineup and help my team."
Kaleta has just two points, both goals, in 17 games this year. The aggressive forward has struggled to stay healthy going back to last year.
"You look around the league and the injury bug this year is pretty ridiculous," Kaleta said. "For me, I hate [being sidelined]. It's the worst feeling in the entire world, from missing Game Seven last year in the playoffs [with a broken hand] to missing parts of this season. I don't like that whatsoever.
"The only positive is I kept sharp mentally, watched video of other players, tried to figure out tendencies and do that sort of thing to keep my mind sharp. A big part of hockey is being smart."
While Kaleta will be back, Brad Boyes is taking a cautious approach to his injured ankle. Both skated on a regular line in practice Wednesday in Air Canada Centre but Boyes said after he's probably going to wait another few days.
"It's feeling pretty good but based on timetables you don't want to come back too early and have a setback," said Boyes, who had his ankle rolled Nov. 23 by Boston's Johnny Boychuk and figured to miss 4-6 weeks. "I've felt real good out there for what I've done. There's been limited stuff when it comes to pucks along the boards, really getting into battles where I might put a lot more pressure on my ankle. So those are areas I want to be ready for."
Winger Marcus Foligno was returned to Rochester after making his NHL debut Tuesday and played for the Amerks on Wednesday against Lake Erie. That meant he had played five games in six days, including three for the Amerks on consecutive days over the weekend.
Thomas Vanek missed his second straight practice for maintenance but will play tonight. Vanek, Buffalo's leading goal scorer with 17, did not have a shot on goal in Tuesday's game and appears to be nursing some sort of minor lower-body injury.
Coach Lindy Ruff said Paul Szczechura was "a little banged up" so he was allowed to skip practice but should play tonight.
As if the Amerks aren't short-handed enough, veteran defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was suspended for Wednesday's game because of a check to the head of an opponent in last Friday's game at San Antonio.
The Amerks signed a pair of 25-year-old East Coast League players to professional tryout contracts -- Las Vegas forward Scott Campbell and Gwinnett forward Igor Gongalsky.
Campbell has appeared in 27 games for Las Vegas this season, posting nine goals and seven assists. Gongalsky has one assist and 29 penalty minutes in 13 games with Portland (AHL) and three points in four games with Gwinnett. In 181 career ECHL games with four teams, the native of Kiev, Ukraine, has collected 109 points and 369 penalty minutes.
The Leafs are just 1-3-2 in their last six games overall and 2-5-3 in their last 10 at home. The Leafs have called up top wing prospect Nazem Kadri and he practiced Wednesday on a line with former Sabres Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur. A few dozen school children were touring the ACC during the Sabres' practice and a couple of them couldn't resist taunting the Sabres with the "Go Leafs, Go" chant Toronto fans use here and in First Niagara center.