The supermoon showed up. The stars won’t.
The Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning will be without their marquee names when they meet Thursday in KeyBank Center. Steven Stamkos is sidelined for the Lightning, while Buffalo will again be missing Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Tyler Ennis, Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov and others.
“I always feel better about going best-on-best and playing against the other team’s best,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday. “That’s what you want to compete against, what you want to beat. But at the same time, no one’s going to sit around and feel sorry for anybody with the injuries you have or the injuries they have.
“We have our share.”
Once again, Stamkos is not coming to play in Buffalo. The Sabres courted him during the offseason, but he chose to re-sign with Tampa. He has nine goals and 20 points in 17 games but suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee Tuesday night in Detroit.
“We are in the process of evaluating options for repair and rehabilitation,” said Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman, who added the center is out indefinitely.
O’Reilly is expected to miss his third straight game with a midsection injury. He was one of the few Sabres to skate Wednesday as the team opted for team meetings, but Bylsma will continue a cautious approach.
“He’s progressing,” Bylsma said. “He’s feeling better.”
Eichel also took the ice. He hit the five-week point of his high-ankle sprain, which is expected to keep him out up to eight weeks.
“Jack is skating, upping his skating regime and showing signs of progress but still has a ways to go,” Bylsma said. “He hasn’t reached all levels of his skating yet in terms of stopping and starting and some of those things, but is progressing pretty well.”
Bylsma confirmed Ennis’ injury timeline as six weeks, matching The Buffalo News’ report last week that the forward is out after double hernia surgery. Bylsma said Kulikov is “not better than day-to-day.”
Buffalo has sent Casey Nelson to Rochester, where the defenseman played Wednesday night against Albany. The Sabres will need a recall for the game against Tampa.
If it’s Nelson, he would be playing his third game in three nights. Buffalo could also opt for Taylor Fedun. He had 10 assists and 12 points in Rochester’s first 13 games.
With the depleted back end, the Sabres have been relying heavily on Rasmus Ristolainen. He has averaged 27:24 of ice time during the past four games, including 29:57 against Ottawa. Bylsma had a stated goal of limiting Ristolainen to 25 minutes per night.
“Every time I see the time on ice, my words to you all ring in my ears from training camp on Ristolainen’s minutes on the ice,” Bylsma said. “With the injuries we have, we’re going to be leaning on those guys pretty heavily through this homestretch.”
The Sabres are starting four straight at home. They will also host Pittsburgh, Calgary and Detroit. Buffalo has the fewest home wins in the NHL at 1-3-2.
Buffalo has been whistled four times for too many men on the ice. The latest infraction, Tuesday in St. Louis, allowed the Blues to tie the game in their 4-1 victory.
Defenseman Josh Gorges says it’s unacceptable.
“That’s just being mentally aware,” Gorges said. “Those are tough ones. There’s no excuse for it.
“Sometimes you lose focus, and that shows you how important every shift and every opportunity is. You hear guys talking about playing a complete game and every shift and 60 minutes and all the clichés that they throw at you, but when you break it down and look at it, that’s exactly it. That can be the difference in the game, so we’ve got to make sure we’re mentally sharp.”