ST. PAUL, Minn. – His three rehab games in Rochester went without a hitch, and Mark Pysyk was back in the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room here Monday. The Sabres made the defenseman’s recall official after practice, and he will almost certainly play in the NHL for the first time since Nov. 17 against the Minnesota Wild here on Tuesday.
“Everything felt good, and I felt better as the week went on,” Pysyk said. “I was in pretty much every situation. I played some power play, penalty kill. Played quite a bit in each of the games. It was good to get back in the swing of things.
“I was trying to do the same things and defend hard and quickly. You want to get the guys out of the zone and make a good first pass. That’s what I like to do.”
Pysyk turned 24 Monday and teammates chided him with birthday wishes in the locker room after practice. Due to travel delays from Buffalo, he did not arrive in time to take the ice. He played three games over the last five days after being out of the lineup since for 24 Sabres games due to a broken bone in his foot.
The Sabres need Pysyk’s work with the puck and his accurate passing; before his injury Pysyk had the top Corsi rating on the team in 5-on-5 play at just over 54 percent.
“I know some of the numbers and statistics that our team had when Mark was in the lineup,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “Our best possession games coincide with Mark being in the lineup. We’ve been decent in possession, around 50 percent, around average in the league. But I know the numbers with Mark were a lot better. And that’s something we have missed with him out of the lineup for this extended period of time.
“He’s hard to play against because of his skating ability. He can close, have a tight gap, also move pucks the other way with his skating ability and support our rush up the ice.”
Bylsma wasn’t talking about his lineup yet but Pysyk could slide in for Jake McCabe, who suffered a lower-body injury Sunday in Winnipeg but was able to practice Monday. Bylsma said McCabe was feeling better than he did after Sunday’s game.
Easily lost in Sam Reinhart’s hat trick and all the hoopla surrounding Evander Kane’s return to Winnipeg was the fact the game-winning goal was tallied by Marcus Foligno, who snapped a 2-2 tie at 4:12 of the third period.
The goal came when Foligno pounded home a one-timer from the left circle after Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck kicked a long rebound of a Brian Gionta shot to his right. Winnipeg winger Blake Wheeler was just late getting to Foligno.
“I just thought about getting it on net as fast as I could,” Foligno said here Monday. “That was a pretty big rebound, and I knew Wheeler was closing on me, too. I saw a huge open net and just thought I better bear down and rip this one on net.”
The goal was just Foligno’s third of the season – his first since Dec. 4 – and he celebrated with a flying leap into the end glass.
“The atmosphere was crazy out there, pretty mad,” Foligno said. “To get that goal early in the third, it got quiet in there. We put them to the perimeter and that didn’t create a lot of close calls.
“It had the feeling of a playoff atmosphere. Guys were talking about how it’s fun to shut down fans like that. Like when you go into Montreal and it’s quiet, you know you’re doing a good job. “
The Wild were off on Monday after dropping a 2-1 decision to New Jersey here Sunday night. Former Sabres winger Thomas Vanek is third on the team in both goals (13) and points (27) while former Buffalo captain Jason Pominville has struggled this year with just five goal and 19 points in the team’s 42 games.
Minnesota is 22-12-8 overall and 14-6-2 at home. The Wild are comfortably in the Western Conference’s No. 1 wild-card slot with a seven-point lead over Nashville and Colorado.
The Sabres are 8-9-2 on the road and can get even with a win tonight, pulling to 20 points in 20 away games. That’s a huge step up from their road records the last two years – 8-30-3 and 9-29-3.
The NHL made a scoring change Monday, adding an assist for Ryan O’Reilly to Sam Reinhart’s empty-net goal and making it Reinhart from Evander Kane and O’Reilly.
That pushes O’Reilly’s team-high point total to 36, and it’s his 19th assist of the season, one shy of Rasmus Ristolainen’s club high of 20.