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With injuries on defense, Ristolainen's workload could get pumped up again

The retooling of the defense was a major storyline for the Buffalo Sabres' summer. But when the club hit the ice for practice Sunday morning in HarborCenter -- essentially the first workout with its regular season roster -- the blueline corps was a tad disheveled.

It could mean that, just like last year, the Sabres are going to lean heavily on Rasmus Ristolainen.

Jake McCabe (shoulder) and Zach Bogosian (lower body), the club's likely No. 2 pair, were both missing due to injury and their status is murky at best for Thursday's season opener against Montreal. Meanwhile, newly acquired Marco Scandella went hard through the entire practice that took place on both rinks. Scandella did not play in any of Buffalo's six exhibition games on the road back from hip surgery and could be looking at the tough chore of playing his first game in Blue and Gold without any rehearsals.

For his part, new coach Phil Housley tried to downplay any concern over Bogosian, who was injured in Friday's preseason finale against the New York Islanders.

"We got some news yesterday and it's more of a day to day," said Housley, who added that Bogosian will be re-evaluated again Monday. "But he seems to be in a good spot."

What might a slew of injuries mean on the blueline? More minutes for Justin Falk and maybe even summer signee Matt Tennyson makes the team, rather than opening in Rochester.

Ristolainen, meanwhile, could be running the clock up again. He got used to that under Dan Bylsma -- finishing fifth in the NHL at 26:28 per game last year -- but Housley's attacking system could complicate matters.

"That's what I practice for, I'm in great shape," Ristolainen said. "Like I said last year, you don't practice to just play 20 minutes. You practice to be in great shape and try to earn as many minutes as possible. I like to play as much as I earn. I don't think there are any limits. You have to keep your mind and body fresh."

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Housley, however, said he'd prefer to keep Ristolainen to around 22-23 minutes.

"Over the long haul, he'll be fresh in February and hopefully we'll be in a position where we need that energy," Housley said. "There's going to be that odd time where they're going to play high minutes. They're minute munchers. To keep them fresh in the system and the style we want to play, we want to keep those minutes comfortable."

Another issue from camp is that Ristolainen has not been able to work with a consistent partner on the top pair. The presumption is that Scandella will eventually land there but Ristolainen was with Nathan Beaulieu on Sunday. Scandella was with Tennyson and Josh Gorges Sunday while Falk played with Victor Antipin.

Ristolainen said he's been happy with all of his partners in training camp but was particularly pleased with how he meshed with Scandella in practice.

"I felt pretty good out there with him," Ristolainen said. "We had a good talk and I feel that we think and play the game pretty much the same way."

Ristolainen said the defensemen are still learning their roles under Housley, who wants to see them move up with the play and join the rush much more than they did under Bylsma.

"Every time there's a new coach, new style, it takes a little time," Ristolainen said. "There's a lot of new things but I really am looking forward to this style of play. It's good to get some offense going. I think we've got a great group. Everyone can skate, move the puck, shoot, play offense, play defense. ... We have a deep group this year. When guys are injured, someone has got to step up."

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