The Buffalo Sabres will hit the ice Thursday morning in HarborCenter in what figures to be a routine December workout the day before a game. That's not the case, however, for defenseman Zach Bogosian. It will be his first practice since Halloween and could give the team a pretty good gauge of when one of their chief minutes-crunchers can return to the lineup.
Bogosian has missed 19 games with a sprained MCL in his knee and rejoined his teammates for the first time in more than a month when he took the morning skate Tuesday prior to their 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
"He's felt good on the ice, felt comfortable skating," said coach Dan Bylsma. "He's gone through progression minus his teammates. You have to get into practice. There is some reaction and movement with the drills" in the morning skate. "That's a progression for him. Full practice would be super beneficial in seeing where he's at with his knee."
Although Bogosian is clearly getting closer to a return, there's no set timetable yet. Only after they see how he reacts to practice will both player and team get a better handle on things. The Sabres, who were off Wednesday, host the New York Islanders Friday night, play Saturday at Carolina and Tuesday in Florida.
Until skating Tuesday, Bogosian has been limited to one-on-one work with Sabres development coach Dennis Miller.
"Dennis has a great thing going. His skates are very game-like, as game-like as a practice can be," Bogosian said. "I've enjoyed working with him but I want to get back working with the team. I feel pretty good, just want to take it day by day."
Bogosian, 26, was injured in a non-contact accident during the first period of the Sabres' Nov. 1 victory in Minnesota.
"I pinched down in the offensive zone and just caught a rut. It was kind of a freak thing, something where sometimes the ice will get you," he said. "Unfortunately, my knee went the wrong way. It's something you can't really prevent. It was one of those freak things. I tried to skate back to the bench and it didn't feel right."
Bogosian had no points and a minus-2 rating in the nine games he played, averaging 18:59 per game. He averaged 22:20 in his 64 games last season, second on the team to Rasmus Ristolainen's 25:16, while collecting seven goals and 17 assists. He missed the first 18 games last year with a severe groin injury suffered early in training camp.
"I can't get frustrated," Bogosian said. "That's one thing I've always been able to do in the past is stay mentally strong, stay ready and make sure I'm doing everything in my power to get back as soon as possible. Sometimes these things take time.
"I'm not going to get mentally frustrated. It's never good when you physically can't go and mentally you're just not there. It's not a good recipe. I just tried to make sure I was staying upbeat, trying to be upbeat around the room and a good teammate and I'll go about it that way."
"I know it's frustrating for him," Bylsma said. "He kind of feels the same way (as) last year at the beginning of the year. He just wants to get on the ice playing games and that hasn't been the case for him yet."
An outgrowth of all the injuries the Sabres have endured on defense to Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Gorges and Taylor Fedun is the opportunities that have been provided to the likes of Justin Falk, Erik Bergdoerfer and junior hockey recall Brendan Guhle.
"It seems like we've had so many different pairings and so many different guys in the lineup," Bogosian said. "It's good to see Jake McCabe play big minutes, to see Guhle get called up. It's good to see Falk and Fedun playing. It's good to see all the defensemen being utilized."
Bogosian said it's also been interesting to watch the evolution of Ristolainen, who entered Wednesday fifth in the league in time on ice at 26:39 per game.
"When you play that many minutes, it's fun. It's something that you just go out there and play," Bogosian said. "You don't think about it too much. People might argue people get tired playing more but you're mentally engaged and physically engaged. You don't really think about how tired you are. You're into the game, you're going, staying warm. It's easier to play that way."
Winger Vaclav Karabacek, the Sabres' second-round pick in 2014, was promoted to the Rochester Amerks on Wednesday after a strong stint with Elmira of the ECHL.
Since being reassigned to Elmira on Nov. 25 after starting the year on the injured list in Rochester, the 20-year-old Karabacek collected five goals and six assists in nine games. He was named ECHL Player of the Week for the period ending Dec. 4 after producing six points (3-3) and a plus-five rating over a three-game span.