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Sabres Notebook: Healthy defense; USA Hockey camp opens

Justin Falk has a fresh cut under his right eye. Other than that, Buffalo’s defensemen are healthy.

That’s a rarity.

The Sabres have had their full complement of defensemen just eight times this season. It hasn’t happened since Nov. 1, but it is possible coach Dan Bylsma will have everyone at his disposal Friday when the New York Islanders visit KeyBank Center. Eight blue-liners practiced Thursday, which should give Bylsma choices of which six to dress.

“As a team, it’s great,” defenseman Taylor Fedun said in HarborCenter. “We’ve had some key injuries back there. It’s definitely a good problem for us to have going forward.”

Fedun (upper body) and Zach Bogosian (knee) practiced with the team for the first time since suffering injuries. They joined Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Gorges, Cody Franson and Falk.

Bogosian and Fedun were going to meet with the medical staff to determine their return dates. If Bogosian is ready, it’s possible Falk or Fedun will return to Rochester. The other could stay as the seventh defenseman.

“We haven’t been in that situation the whole year long, so frankly it’s a new situation for us here at the 29-game mark,” Bylsma said. “Each defenseman that’s stepped up and played for us has brought a little bit different element.”

Falk has been a stay-at-home defenseman who has one assist and a plus-1 rating in 15 games. Fedun has helped the offense, recording four assists in eight games before suffering a strained muscle in his chest Dec. 3.

“To be able to get back out there and get in the mix is a great feeling,” Fedun said. “I’ll get back into things here and hopefully pick up where I left off.”

Falk had a gash on his face after a drill in which groups of Sabres competed to clear the puck or keep it in the zone.

“I’m not even quite sure whose stick it was,” Falk said. “We’re in some battle drills and we’re all competing out there, which is good. It gets us ready for the games.”

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Sabres prospect Casey Fitzgerald and Youngstown native Joe Cecconi will start their final push to make the U.S. world junior team.

USA Hockey will open its junior national team camp Friday in HarborCenter. The event will feature 10 a.m. practices every day through Tuesday, with the public welcome to attend. There will be 26 players at the camp, and the 23-man team will be announced Dec. 24.

Buffalo selected Fitzgerald in the third round of this year’s NHL Draft. The defenseman has five goals and 13 points in 19 games with Boston College.

Cecconi grew up playing defense for the Niagara Junior Purple Eagles, Wheatfield Blades, Buffalo Regals and Junior Sabres. A fifth-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2015, he has one assist in 16 games with the University of Michigan.

While USA Hockey is in town, it will conduct a site survey of New Era Field during Sunday’s game between the Bills and Cleveland Browns. Buffalo will host the 2018 world juniors, and the United States and Canada will play an outdoor game in the Bills’ stadium Dec. 29, 2017.

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Matt Moulson and Evander Kane alternated as the left winger for Jack Eichel and Kyle Okposo during Tuesday’s win against Los Angeles. They could do it again versus the Isles.

Moulson skated on Eichel’s line during Thursday’s practice. Kane, meanwhile, was on a four-person fourth line with Zemgus Girgensons, Nicolas Deslauriers and Derek Grant.

Kane started with Eichel and Okposo against the Kings but got demoted. He jumped back up during the third period and scored a goal. Moulson, who opened with Girgensons and Deslauriers, picked up two assists alongside Eichel and Okposo.

“Moulson was jumping right from the start of game,” Bylsma said. “With Zemgus and Deslauriers, they probably had our best shifts in the first period. He got the opportunity in the second period with Jack and Kyle, and did real well. Obviously, they got two huge shifts for us, two big goals for us. He was a part of that.

“Evander, bringing the speed and bringing what he can to his line, got the chance to jump out there in the third and scored a big goal for us.”

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The annual holiday ornament sale to benefit the Sabres’ foundation will take place during Friday’s game. The players’ wives and girlfriends will sell the $20 ornaments at the top of the escalators in the 100 Level. Each wrapped ornament will have the autograph of a Sabres player.

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