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Return of Myers not far off; But defenseman won't play Monday

It may not be all the Buffalo Sabres want or need for Christmas but they could use defenseman Tyler Myers on the ice. The 6-foot-8 Myers keeps progressing from his broken wrist and has another appointment with team doctors on Monday.

Myers isn't ruling out a return to games late next week, although coach Lindy Ruff said that's probably premature. Myers has been out since suffering the injury Nov. 19 against Phoenix, when the Sabres were 12-8-0. They're 4-7-3 since and have sunk to 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

"I know I'm close [to returning]," Myers said after skating with the team for an hour Friday morning in First Niagara Center. "It's just a matter of getting where I need to be before I jump in."

Specifically, Myers' hand needs to get dramatically better to allow him to shoot and handle the puck the way he's used to. He's been skating and doing puckhandling for a few days, but his shot remains weak.

Myers has already been ruled out of Monday's game against Washington here and it's a longshot he would play on the road next week in New Jersey and Washington or in the New Year's Eve game here against Ottawa. The Jan. 3 visit by Edmonton might be realistic.

"He's got a ways to go," Ruff said. "He can't handle the puck very well or shoot yet. I think that will come quickly, but he's not going to be available."

Myers had just two goals, six points and a minus-3 rating when he was hurt and was just two games removed from his first career healthy scratch Nov. 14 in Montreal. But he played more than 21 minutes in 15 games and was a workhorse on the Sabres' special teams. Ruff noted last week how those areas have suffered without him and the numbers bear that out.

When Myers was hurt, the Sabres were seventh in the NHL on the power play at 19.2 percent and third in penalty killing at 90 percent.

Heading into Friday's games, the Sabres had slipped to 14th on the power play and ninth in penalty killing overall. In Myers' absence, their percentages have been 16.1 on the PP and an abysmal 76.6 on the PK.

Myers said he's trying to level his frustration with the injury against his team's struggles and not push himself to cause a setback.

"It's just taking steps. The more I can lean on the stick, the more I can bear down on shots," he said. "I'll be able to gauge it. It's been a lot better. I've been able to take my splint off, just work with tape, get a little bit more movement out there. Hopefully that brings strength back a little quicker."

Myers is one of nine injured Sabres, and that list now includes Thomas Vanek, as the team's leading goal scorer couldn't answer the call for the third period of Thursday's 3-2 loss in Toronto. His status is unknown for next week.

Vanek is believed to have suffered a shoulder injury on a hit from Pittsburgh's James Neal during Saturday's 8-3 loss to the Penguins. Ruff said Vanek would see team doctors Friday for an update.

The coach said Tyler Ennis was unable to skate on his sore ankle Friday. On the plus side, Jochen Hecht tested his sore leg prior to practice and is improving. Brad Boyes (ankle) remains the closest to returning and could play Monday.

Ruff briefly met with players on the ice after the workout to wish them well over the holiday and remind them to be ready for Monday morning's pregame skate (the NHL does not allow teams to practice Dec. 24 or 25). Captain Jason Pominville then briefly met with the team as well without the coaches.

Pominville, who was visibly frustrated after Thursday's game, didn't want to divulge what he said but agreed the break comes at a good time.

"This break has to be an advantage for us to regroup, refocus and energize ourselves for what's ahead," Pominville said.

Cracked defenseman Jordan Leopold: "We have to totally get away from it, listen to nothing but Christmas music and eat pie and turkey and whatever else it may be. Maybe even put on a couple extra pounds for battle in front of the net."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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