Justin Bailey’s dream came true. He pulled on a Sabres sweater and played in the NHL.
He hopes to do it again soon.
The Sabres sent Bailey back to Rochester on Thursday after a four-game stint with the big club. Tim Murray was waiting for the Williamsville native at the conclusion of practice, and the general manager delivered the bad news. He also had words of encouragement for Bailey, telling the right winger he liked what he saw and that he’ll be back at some point.
“It’s been a pretty cool week for sure,” Bailey said in First Niagara Center. “It was one of my dreams to play games in the NHL. To get the opportunity to do that has been special.”
The Sabres’ continuing return to health coupled with Evander Kane’s reappearance from a one-game benching left Bailey without a lineup spot for Friday’s game in Columbus. The 20-year-old skated in four games with the Sabres, taking 15 shots with no points while averaging 11:51 of ice time.
“I thought I created a good amount of chances,” Bailey said. “I struggled a bit in the D-zone, but when I got in the offensive zone and got the puck on my stick, I thought I was able to use my size, my speed to my advantage, create a couple chances for other guys.
“There’s a lot of things I saw when I came up here that I definitely need to work on. I think it’s a good experience being able to see what needs work and what doesn’t.”
Bailey headed back to the Amerks with a plan to improve his puck work along the boards.
“Defensively, he showed a good stick, showed a good angle numerous times,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “That coming out of D-zone puck play was where he ran into some issues where he can be better, and it resulted in playing defense too much in those circumstances.”
Bailey’s best game was his debut. He took seven shots in Philadelphia on Feb. 11 and nearly scored multiple times.
“The Philadelphia game will be used as what he can do, what he can bring,” Bylsma said. “Speed-wise, physicality, offensive zone, around the net, he showed his best in that game.”
Bailey’s favorite game, however, was his home debut last Friday against Montreal.
“It’s all been pretty special, but the first home game I had was obviously one of the most special hockey games for me,” he said. “It wasn’t my best game, but just being able to see all my family and friends and all that afterward, especially all the support from people around the city and people I played with, it’s been pretty cool.
“You never know which day is your last day, so I just kind of reflected every day and was obviously very thankful to still be here.”
Forward Dan Catenacci practiced for the first time since suffering a concussion during the Philadelphia game. He felt fine after the workout but was awaiting the result of medical tests.
“Most of the injury was in my neck,” Catenacci said. “I haven’t had too many headache symptoms.”
The 22-year-old was playing in just his third game when he was hit by Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, who received a five-minute charging major but no supplemental discipline.
“I know I’m a young player, but at the same time I know to keep my head up in the neutral zone,” Catenacci said. “I really have no comment on the hit. I’m just happy to be healthy and happy to be skating again.”
Forwards Ryan O’Reilly (illness) and Zemgus Girgensons (maintenance) missed practice but are expected in the lineup against the Blue Jackets.
Bylsma is feeling the weight of his team’s struggles in shootouts and on the power play. Buffalo is 1-5 in the breakaway challenge.
“They’re a miserable source of frustration,” the coach said.
The Sabres are just 2 for 23 on the power play during the last seven games.
“There is some frustration creeping in with the power play in both units,” Bylsma said. “Components you need to have in your power play to be successful aren’t there. Our breakout, our entry and our recovery hasn’t been very good.”