The Buffalo Sabres are getting paper-thin on defense with 16 games left in their season.
Zach Bogosian and Andrej Meszaros both sat out practice Monday in HarborCenter, and Meszaros is likely going to miss Wednesday’s game in Toronto after he was struck in the head by a shot early in Saturday’s game in Washington.
Bogosian took an Alex Ovechkin shot to the foot late in the second period of that game and played only two shifts early in the third.
Bogosian was seen in a walking boot after Saturday’s game and participated in singer Garth Brooks’ charity kids football camp Sunday in Orchard Park. Coach Ted Nolan seemed optimistic Bogosian will be available Wednesday.
“Bogosian is little sore today but he’s a little bit better too,” Nolan said.
The Sabres practiced Monday with five healthy defenseman and converted defenseman-turned-winger Nicolas Deslauriers helped out with a few drills.
Nolan said he didn’t think the Sabres would make a recall on defense from Rochester, from where Chad Ruhwedel would be the logical choice.
Jake McCabe is out with an apparent concussion and Mark Pysyk has not resumed skating after his frightening collapse during a pickup basketball game in Blue Cross Arena on Feb. 28.
“It’s not easy. We’ve been pretty beat up all the season,” said defenseman Mike Weber. “It’s tough, a lot more added ice time for other guys. But it’s an opportunity, an honor to play in this league. When you get opportunities to do something out of your comfort zone, it’s time to show people you can handle it.”
Until being limited to 20:20 of ice time Saturday, Bogosian had eclipsed 25 minutes in eight of his previous nine games.
“He’s a great physical D-man,” Weber said. “He’s a big man who plays the game hard. He’s a guy that will get power-play time, kill penalties, go for the big kills and wants to be engaged physically. Going forward here, that’s the type of hockey we need to play, a blue-collar hard-nosed game, where teams are worried to come in to play the Sabres. He’s a great piece now and moving forward for what we want to do here.”
Deslauriers, in his first full season as a full-time forward, is the only Sabres player to appear in all 66 games. He has five goals and nine assists, and is tops among NHL rookies in hits with 213. That’s ninth overall in the league.
“That was my plan at the beginning of the season: To make the lineup, stay in it and stay healthy,” said Deslauriers, 24. “It’s been going good so far. I had a little flu in Columbus but other than that, no issues. I like playing hockey, I’m still young, I have a long ways to build up and I can bring energy every game.”
Deslauriers said he enters games with a forward mentality but can quickly shift if injuries or extended penalties like fighting majors cut into the depth on the Buffalo defense. He took some shifts with Rasmus Ristolainen on Saturday.
“Even compared to the beginning of the season, I’m feeling much better on the wing,” he said. “And just like last game, if something is going on with the back end and they need me there, I’m ready to fill out the spot. It builds my confidence that I can do that and this coaching staff has supported me and made it fun for me to contribute.”
Nolan flipped his top two centers in practice Monday, putting Johan Larsson on the top line with Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis and dropping Phil Varone between Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta.
“It’s not a sometime thing,” Nolan said. “Phil Varone played well for spurts but we need better than spurts. Larsson seemed to have been consistent the last number of games.”
The Sabres have yet to decide who will play goal Wednesday in the wake of Matt Hackett getting pulled Saturday in Washington and being relieved by Anders Lindback.
Neither goalie looked all that sharp during the 6-1 defeat that came 24 hours after Lindback stopped 34 of 37 shots during a 3-2 loss in Ottawa.
“The hot hand goes,” Nolan said. “We’ll see how it goes. It was tough last game for both goaltenders with the late night, the travel.”
Lindback has a 3.33 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in three games since being acquired from Dallas, where his figures were 3.71 and .875.
In Hackett’s two NHL starts this season, his goals-against is 5.22 and his save percentage is .867.