When Dan Bylsma announced that defenseman Mark Pysyk was not ready to return to the lineup, that put Carlo Colaiacovo in Monday night’s game.
It’s been the story for Colaiacovo this season – when the Buffalo Sabres have an injury on the blue line, the veteran becomes the perfect plug.
It’s not exactly the role the 32-year-old is looking for.
“I have a saying – to be an everyday-er,” Colaiacovo said.
The last few seasons, Colaiacovo has struggled to find that everyday spot in the NHL lineup. Last season, he played 33 games with the Philadelphia Flyers. The season before, he was in 25 games for the St. Louis Blues.
Monday night when he suited up for the Sabres against the Blues, it was his 12th game of the season with nine healthy scratches on his sheet.
“For me, the biggest thing is just to stay in the lineup,” Colaiacovo said. “The more I can stay in the lineup, the more consistency I can find. It’s always tough when you’re playing two and sitting two and playing two and sitting two.”
He played the first two games of the season and was a minus-3. He was a healthy scratch five games, then was back in the lineup for two games. He was scratched next game. Back in for two. Scratched for two. Back in for three. Scratched for two.
Monday was his third straight game back in the lineup.
“To be honest with you, it’s not fun at all,” Colaiacovo said. “I just want to play the game of hockey because that’s what I love to do. But those are the mental battles that I’ve been battling the last two or three years and it’s not something that I’m happy with or content with. But you’ve just got to work extra hard to keep yourself ready both mentally and physically.
“The big thing about that is being a great teammate – staying involved with your teammates, keep communicating with your teammates and ultimately being a team guy and pushing for the next guy that’s in there for you to be better. That’s all it comes down to and when you’re given your chance to play, you do what you can with it and for me I’m given a chance to play now and I want to take it and run with it. And if I’m given that opportunity that’s something I would want to do.”
Colaiacovo has done well of late. After being a minus-four in his first three games, he has been a plus or even his next eight games.
Pysyk took the morning skate on Monday, his first time with the team after suffering a bone bruise against Dallas on Nov. 17. He missed his third straight game with the injury.
“The last game I just took a puck. I don’t remember what period,” Pysyk said. “And then after the game it was tough walking around, tough to skate obviously but it shouldn’t be too much longer.”
There are always good memories for Steve Ott when he returns to Buffalo. The forward played for the Sabres for two seasons, from 2012-14, and served as captain before being traded with Ryan Miller to St. Louis.
“I really enjoyed it here. I’ve been pretty vocal about that,” Ott said after taking a pre-game skate with the Blues in First Niagara Center. “Over the time I had a blast playing here – the city, the fans, the organization as a whole was really first class here and when it’s like that, as a player it’s real easy to play.”
Ott has played in 15 games for the Blues this year, missing six games with an injury. He has two assists on the season, but noted his role has been more defensive-minded and a part of the team’s penalty killing unit, which ranks fourth in the NHL.
“I’ve got a role here and to be honest with you when you’re a great, great team like we have here or a Stanley Cup-contending team that’s built for that type of year, you want to excel in your role,” Ott said. “Unfortunately I got hurt there for five, six games, whatever it was, but I’m penalty killing a lot, continuing to push ice, eat up ice time in a different avenue, not so much on an offensive thing but starting a lot of D-zones, the hard areas of the game. When you do so, you really buy in and for us to be a complete hockey team, you have to have everyone that buys into a role.”