Training camp produced a quick exit back to Rochester, a stunner for a prospect who felt he was primed to make the NHL roster. An October callup produced two games with no points and another quick return, complete with a clear frown from Dan Bylsma when the Buffalo Sabres coach was asked for a progress report.
So perhaps Justin Bailey has been humbled a bit by his season to date. The Williamsville native returned to the Sabres Friday and will be in the lineup Saturday afternoon in TD Garden as the Sabres play their return engagement with the Boston Bruins. And Bailey will get back in the NHL in the wake of quite a hot streak in Rochester.
"I got a little bit of confidence going into the break scoring wise," Bailey said after practice in HarborCenter. "Lately I've been clicking finding some good chemistry with Tim Kennedy and I've been feeling pretty hot down there."
Bailey has 13 goals, seventh in the AHL, and nine assists for the season with the Amerks. He is on a five-game point streak with five goals and seven points. The memories of September and October are clearly fresh in his mind.
"I was disappointed with the outcome," he said. "It's one of those things where a month or two after you think, 'Hey, what more could I have done in the summer? What more could I have done in training camp?' I reflected. I look at a lot of things. But what are you going to do? I worked my butt off down in Rochester to get back up here and that's in the past and I'm looking at the present.
"There's been a ton of ups and downs this year. From training camp to even the first little bit of the season. I keep telling myself while I'm on the top streak to remember what this feeling was like and try to bring that to the rink every single day."
Kennedy, the South Buffalo native who played as a rookie for the Sabres during their 2009-10 Northeast Division championship season, has been a big help to Bailey as his center the last three games. Kennedy. returned from Sweden earlier this month and the Sabres wanted to sign him for the Amerks but he was claimed on the AHL's waiver process by Carolina. The Hurricanes then agreed to loan Kennedy to Rochester.
"He's been great," Bailey said. "I remember watching him when I was a kid and he was a rookie. It's funny how things kind of happen like that. He's a quiet guy who just goes about his business and plays hard. We jelled a little bit and it's been great to play with him."
Bailey will be in the lineup for the Sabres as William Carrier will miss the game because he aggravated an injured hand in a fight Thursday night with Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid. Bailey has played 10 NHL games the last two seasons and has not recorded a point -- but has 33 goals and 67 points in that span with the Amerks.
At least initially, it seems Bailey is not going to get top-line minutes in Buffalo. He practiced Friday on the fourth line, in Carrier's spot with Derek Grant and Nicolas Deslauriers. Bylsma is hoping to see the kind of production Bailey put forth in his NHL debut last year in Philadelphia, when he collected seven shots on goal.
"You just go back to his game against Philly last year to see what type of player he can be and where he can add," Bylsma said. "Even today in our 5-on-5 portion of our drills, the speed he's attacking the defensemen with and chasing the puck down is dangerous. He's got some great speed down the ice and that's where he's got to be effective for us.
"That could be on any line. It could be on the fourth line or it could be next to Jack" Eichel "for a portion of the time. That's something he has to earn with his play."
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Bailey wants to quickly see his production in Rochester translate to the NHL.
"Everybody knows I'm fast and I'm big and I can score goals," he said. "That needs to translate here. From the top down, I'm being more detailed in practice to translate into the game. For me, that's building confidence early, playing simple in the first 10 minutes of the game. Once I'm confident playing fast, I'll be able to go do my thing."
Bailey's return to the NHL is one subplot to a game that has much darker ramifications for the Sabres. After blowing a 2-0 lead and losing to the Bruins, 4-2, Thursday in KeyBank Center, the Sabres would fall 10 points behind Boston for the Atlantic Division's final playoff slot with a regulation loss Saturday.
The players and staff were angrier than they have been after any game all season -- and probably after any game in several seasons. It will be interesting to see what the team's reaction will be.
"I feel a little bit like when you're in a playoff series," Bylsma said. "It's an emotional game, a game we poured a lot into and it's a huge disappointment losing that game and losing it the way we did. Now you've got to regroup, put it aside and have them again. That's kind of how I feel about it."
Bylsma said Carrier's hand was not broken during Thursday's fight, confirming what the coach said immediately after the game. There is no timetable for Carrier's return.
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (back) did not make the trip to Boston. He will miss his second straight game, and his 16th overall this season. Cody Franson replaced Kulikov in the lineup Thursday.