Sabres practice was more crowded than usual Thursday, which means decisions are needed before the team hosts Washington on Friday.
Forward Nicolas Deslauriers (knee) and defensemen Josh Gorges (foot) and Dmitry Kulikov (back) practiced fully in KeyBank Center. All three proclaimed themselves healthy enough to return to the lineup. Whether they will is up to coach Dan Bylsma.
Kulikov is almost a certainty to play against the Capitals, followed in odds by Gorges and Deslauriers.
“I’m at the point where it’s feeling good and I can play now,” said Kulikov, who has missed 13 games. “It’s been a long time. I’ve had a couple practices with the team, been skating on my own for more than a week now, and I feel ready. I feel healthy.”
Gorges has missed three games with a nondisplaced fracture in his foot. He says putting the foot in a skate is the same as putting it in a walking boot, and the issue now is pain tolerance.
“I feel like I could” play Friday, Gorges said. “We’ll re-evaluate things today and tomorrow morning, talk to the doctors and the medical staff, and get a better idea of whether that’s possible or not.
“You could get hit in the same spot again and potentially make it worse, but I could get hit on my other foot – which is completely fine – and have a chance of breaking that one, too. Maybe it’s a little more heightened chance of reoccurrence or something happening, and that’s something I have to talk to the doctors and medical staff about, weigh out the risk-versus-reward factor.”
If either defenseman returns, that would signal the end of Brendan Guhle’s stay. The 19-year-old is on an emergency recall from juniors.
“He could not be an emergency recall with healthy players,” said Bylsma, who’s been impressed with Guhle’s first three NHL games. “He did a pretty good job with it, a pretty remarkable job for a young kid to step in. Defending-wise, skating-wise, he’s looked cool and calm on the ice with the puck. I thought he’s done a real good job stepping in those games he’s played.”
Deslauriers has been out since suffering a knee injury Oct. 29. He’s missed 19 games, and Thursday was his first workout with the team. Coaches usually want a few appearances before putting a player back in the lineup.
“Today was my first good test with the boys, and I felt back to normal,” Deslauriers said. “That’s good. Now it’s more on Dan’s decision and how he feels about it. I feel ready. I feel back in shape.”