Marc-Andre Gragnani noticed a few things the past four games while watching from the press box. The most obvious was how easy everything looks from three levels up.
"The game from on top looks like the easiest game," the Sabres' defenseman said Thursday. "Everyone can play the game from up there, so you just try to watch, try to pick up a couple things that when you're on the ice you can't see."
Gragnani will put his lessons to work tonight against Washington in Verizon Center. He will return to the lineup in place of blue-liner Andrej Sekera, who suffered an upper-body injury Wednesday and is out for weeks.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's been a little while now," Gragnani said. "I have to play harder in my zone. I started well and then I got maybe a little bit away from that. I'd like to contribute more offensively, too. I need to jump more in the play, and we'll see what I can do."
Gragnani has a goal and eight assists in 30 games. Problems with passing and puck possession helped send him to the land of healthy scratches, but he hopes his wide-angle look at the rink will eliminate those.
"You have a lot more time with the puck, at times, than we think," Gragnani said. "Sometimes you think there's someone right on you, but there's not. You just try to pick up a couple things like that, but it's hard because it's completely different up there. It's slower. You see everything before it happens. When you're on the ice it goes so fast, but I tried to pick up a couple things for sure."
Sekera was the only player not to take the ice in SkateQuest, located 20 miles from Washington. He got hurt while getting boarded by New Jersey's Eric Boulton.
"I didn't really see the hit. I just hit the boards, then I was struggling from there," Sekera said. "I saw him coming, but I didn't expect him to hit me that way. I was turning toward the boards, I was going to move the puck, and he come smoke me, and that was the end of the story."
Sekera has played in all 36 games, recording two goals and eight points.
Left wing Nathan Gerbe, out since suffering a concussion Dec. 7, appears next in line to return to the lineup. After facing the Capitals, the Sabres will fly home to host Ottawa on Saturday in First Niagara Center.
"Nathan is getting real close," said coach Lindy Ruff. "He could possibly be an option for one of these two games, maybe."
The coach is also pleased with the progress of left wing Tyler Ennis, who is recovering from an ankle injury.
"Tyler Ennis looked pretty good overall," Ruff said. "Obviously, in a limited sense, but I thought he really skated well."
Defenseman Tyler Myers continues to recover from wrist surgery but likely won't be back until next week at the earliest.
The back-to-back outings, which conclude a stretch of four games in six nights, will likely lead to an appearance by Jhonas Enroth. The backup goaltender hasn't started since Dec. 10. Ryan Miller has made seven straight.
"We may go that route," Ruff said. "We're going to need Jhonas, obviously, with four games in six, and it's been a pretty heavy load."