Who knew getting the flu could be good news?
Matt Moulson knows mumps is a trending word around the NHL as 21 players have contracted the disease. So when he got sick last weekend, his thoughts turned toward the worst.
The Sabres tested their first-line left winger for mumps, but the results showed plain old influenza in his system. Moulson missed three games with the illness but returned Saturday for Buffalo’s shootout win against the New York Islanders.
“I think everyone’s worried about what’s going on throughout the league, but I had all the testing done for it and it was just the flu,” Moulson said in First Niagara Center. “Obviously, some precautions around the NHL sent me home, but luckily it was just the flu.”
Moulson bolted out of the arena a couple of hours before Buffalo hosted Colorado on Dec. 21. He felt well enough to return for Tuesday’s game in Detroit, but his mumps tests hadn’t come back yet.
“Luckily, they came back all good,” he said.
Moulson’s return to health allowed him to face his former team for the first time. New York sent the winger to Buffalo in October 2013, but he was traded to Minnesota before the Sabres and Isles faced each other.
He left behind good friends, including Kyle Okposo. Moulson and the Isles winger are godfathers to each other’s children, and Moulson welcomed Okposo to his home during the Christmas break.
“We obviously keep up having good friends on the team,” said Moulson, who turned into a three-time 30-goal scorer while skating with Isles captain John Tavares. “Obviously, I had a chance to play with great players. That definitely helps. But I think sometimes it’s a confidence thing, and for whatever reason I had a lot of confidence when I was playing. I knew Johnny and obviously we had some chemistry. Things went well.”
The Isles are playing well this season, but they went into a tailspin after Moulson departed. Losing someone who fit in so well was a stunner.
“I just think it’s how close we were off the ice,” Tavares said of the duo’s success. “He was someone I could just lean on when I needed someone to talk to. I certainly miss him. I know he’s enjoying his time here in Buffalo.”
Training camp is when optimism is at its peak. Every team is confident and eager for a fresh start. The Islanders were no different this fall. They felt great as puck drop neared for the regular season.
They felt even better when Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy walked into the dressing room during the final weekend of camp. The acquisition of two Stanley Cup-winning defensemen sent the morale meter off the charts.
“It was huge for our team,” Okposo said in First Niagara Center. “It sent a message to us as a team, to our fan base and to everybody in our organization that we’re here to win and we’re going to do what it takes.”
The Isles embraced the positive message from management. It’s a big reason why New York started 16-6 and is still on a nice roll at 23-11-1.
“We’re kind of finding our stride,” forward Ryan Strome said. “I think the good start was important to get our confidence up, and we’ve been playing with that confidence all year.”
In addition to Moulson, the Sabres welcomed back center Cody McCormick and defenseman Mike Weber.
McCormick missed six games with a lower-body injury. He missed four games earlier in the season with a concussion.
“I feel a little fragile this year so far. Hopefully, I’m a little more durable going forward,” McCormick said. “It’s probably years of how I play, but I’m not going to change anything. That’s what got me here and what keeps me around.”
Weber was back after missing six games because of arthroscopic knee surgery. He skated alongside Andrej Meszaros.
“I was available for the last couple, but we erred on the side of caution,” Weber said. “I was playing with it for about three weeks, and it just got to a point where we had to do something to eliminate some of the swelling and pain. We did that, and it’s just getting her back, getting her strong and getting back on the ice.”