DENVER – Nikita Zadorov and Rob Ray had a good relationship in Buffalo, with the wise-cracking duo consistently taking shots at each other. When Ray walked into the Colorado Avalanche’s dressing room Wednesday, Zadorov immediately smiled.
“I’m missing you a lot,” the defenseman told the Sabres broadcaster.
They enjoyed a long chat on reunion day in Pepsi Center. Zadorov and center Mikhail Grigorenko will face the Sabres for the first time, while Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn will play their initial game against the Avs.
“You want to show that you can play hockey, especially against Buffalo, the team that drafted me and I started my career with,” Grigorenko said. “Now it’s a new chapter. You always want to play good against your former team, so I’m really excited.”
He’s particularly excited because he’s back in the lineup following three games as a healthy scratch. The 21-year-old has two goals and 10 assists in 40 games. He’ll skate in the middle of Jarome Iginla and Andreas Martinsen.
“I’m really excited and really happy that coach is putting me in,” Grigorenko said. “Hopefully, I’ll make the most of this opportunity.”
His coach, Patrick Roy, hopes so, too.
“He has to be consistent,” Roy said. “He has to continue to be good in his one-on-one battles. That’s the thing we’ve been watching. He’s been up and down in that area.”
Zadorov will play with veteran blue-liner Francois Beauchemin. Roy said the duo has “provided a spark” since Zadorov returned from the minors three games ago. Zadorov has two assists in 14 games with the Avs and recorded eight goals and 18 points in 28 games with San Antonio of the American Hockey League.
“You’re always growing every day, pretty much learning new stuff every day,” Zadorov said. “I would say I matured in some things, some not. I’m still working on that. But it was a great experience over there, now it’s a new step in here.”
The Sabres are making one lineup change with Josh Gorges returning from a two-game injury absence. He’ll replace scratched Jake McCabe and skate alongside Mark Pysyk. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma will keep Gorges’ usual partner, Rasmus Ristolainen, with Zach Bogosian. Bylsma has liked Bogosian’s recent effort.
“He’s skating better and using the skating to defend better,” Bylsma said. “He’s played harder in defending. He’s working a lot on his game right now and is improving.”