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Sabres Notebook: Okposo back in lineup, Nylander getting closer to AHL return

LAS VEGAS — Veteran winger Kyle Okposo returned to the Buffalo Sabres' lineup Tuesday night against the Vegas Golden Knights after missing the previous two games due to the flu. He said it was a relief to escape the throes of his bug and regain some of the weight he's lost.

"Basically sitting in a hotel room for 2 1/2 straight days is not good stuff," Okposo said after the morning skate in T-Mobile Arena. "It's good to feel like a human being again being out and about and resuming normal activities."

Okposo came on the ice just as the team began its drills and was greeted with a welcome back from coach Phil Housley and stick taps from the players. Okposo was on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart. Okposo had no points and a minus-6 rating in his first four games but had five shots on goal in Thursday's loss at San Jose.

"I thought I was better in San Jose," he said. "I was able to generate a little bit of offense instead of just skating around and doing nothing. I just want to be more assertive and assert myself on the game and demand I make an impact. I can start there and I'll try to be better the rest of the way."

"It's nice to just see him again. He's a huge part of this team," O'Reilly said.

Okposo said he liked the work he saw from the Sabres in Sunday's 3-1 win in Anaheim and feels the team has gotten better on each game of this trip.

"I'm proud of the way they played in Anaheim with a tough back-to-back game to play," he said. "I'm liking the way we're trending right now. There's more to do. Myself personally, I'm not happy with my start and I want to be better. I think that everybody feels that as an individual."

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Former No. 1 draft pick Alexander Nylander has been off the ice since he was injured in the Sabres' first prospect game in mid-September. He missed all of training camp, derailing any hope of him cracking the NHL lineup. Now he's missed the start of the season in Rochester, too.

But Nylander is getting closer to a return to the ice and a start to his season.

"It's a situation where obviously it's gone longer than we first anticipated," General Manager Jason Botterill admitted to The News prior to Tuesday's game. "But it's also a scenario where we want him to feel comfortable so this is not an injury that nags him the entire season. Hopefully we get him back on the ice next week and we start progressing from there."

The Sabres are calling it a lower-body injury and the problem is believed to be to Nylander's groin or hamstring.

He's had a lot of time off so we're going to need some time for him to get back in hockey shape," Botterill said. "The last thing we want to do is put him out there and have him have a setback in one game."

The Amerks are 2-1 thus far and will have played only three times in the season's first 14 days before starting a back-to-back Friday at home against Charlotte.

"Fortunately, the situation in the American Hockey League is they don't have a lot of games right now," Botterill said. "So if Alex sits out a little longer, there's a lot of season left and he's not missing all that much time."

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Rookie defenseman Victor Antipin was a healthy scratch in all four games on the road trip but Housley is not discouraged by the KHL signee.

"He's been really good, working on his game and making sure he's ready when he has another opportunity," Housley said. "He's been a really good teammate, approaches it the right way. He'll get a game pretty soon here moving forward."

The Sabres played Tuesday without center Jacob Josefson, who suffered a foot/ankle injury Sunday in Anaheim. Housley said he's day to day. Zemgus Girgensons shifted to center between Jordan Nolan and Matt Moulson with Josefson out.

Evander Kane took Girgensons' spot at left wing on the top line with Jack Eichel and Jason Pominville.

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The expected large influx of Buffalo fans for the game was not a big issue to Vegas officials. The arena was split nearly 50-50 for last Friday's home game against Detroit and visitors are expected to sample the NHL's newest arena all season.

"It's been great," said Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. "The Original Six teams will bring a lot of fans with them. But we're going to have 13 or 14,000 of our fans here most nights and that's the awesome thing about it. When I was in Florida, some nights the other team outdrew our fans and that was tough. There will be no issues like that here in Vegas with all the fans we're going to get.

"It's great the building is full every night. It makes it a lot of fun. I know the building is real loud on the bench and there's nothing better. The atmosphere has been unbelievable the first few games."

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On the off night here Monday, Housley went to dinner with Buffalo native and longtime Vegas singer/entertainer Frankie Scinta. Other Scinta family members also attended.

"Frankie and I have been friends for 35 years and it's great to see his family have success," a smiling Housley said. "He's been in Vegas for 17 years. It's good to see him. He's a handful. He's got an upbeat attitude and it was great to see him."

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