PHILADELPHIA – After missing the first 25 games of the season, Zach Bogosian came back into the lineup and promptly made his presence felt.
The defenseman isn't the only reason why the Buffalo Sabres have found a bit of life, gathering points in four of his first six games back in the lineup. But having Bogosian back on the blue line has certainly been a contributing factor to the team's jolt.
"I think first of all being away that many games and then stepping in, the first two games I thought he was our best defenseman," said coach Phil Housley Thursday morning as the Sabres prepared to play the Philadelphia Flyers in Wells Fargo Center. "Then you have a little dip because of the buildup to those games, but he's been pretty consistent. His puck movement's really good. He's really strong down low. I'd like to see him shoot the puck a lot more. I think he's got a really good release and it's a heavy shot. But I think he just brings us some depth back there which we really needed."
Bogosian has been reunited with Jake McCabe as the team's second defensive pairing. For McCabe, it's a chance to skate with someone he's familiar with, who knows his game and vice versa. And there's the return of some poise to the blue line, and by extension the entire team, with Bogosian back in the lineup.
"He's a physical presence. He can skate really well and he's a do-it-all kinda guy," McCabe said of Bogosian. "I think the first couple games back it was an instant impact. He brought a lot of poise on the backend and a lot of good puck-moving ability. It's given our team a real boost."
But it's not just his skating or his shot or his puck-moving ability that's made a difference. Sometimes, it isn't even anything on the ice, but rather the way in which Bogosian approaches the game and takes ownership of his leadership role.
"From a team perspective he brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm every day to the rink," McCabe said. "He's always got a smile on his face but when it comes game time, he's dialed in. He's about as fierce of a competitor as I know. I think you've all seen that when that switch is turned. He's ready to go and he brings a lot to our team as far as leadership goes."
"He brings a lot of positivity and a lot of energy," forward Kyle Okposo said. "Just his personality. He's just a feel-good guy that plays with some fire, too. He's just really good to have around the locker room."
His energy and camaraderie with his teammates was evident in the dressing room in Philadelphia after the team's morning skate. When asked if he had a minute for a few questions, he said sure, but first he had to try and hit Ryan O'Reilly across the room with a ball of used tape.
He missed. Oh well.
OK. Ready to go.
"I think one person can help but it's not going to solve everything, right?" Bogosian said. "I think it can bleed into the group a little bit but if we're going to try and change things around here, we have to do it as a group. I do like to be positive and try to come in and be upbeat. Joke with the guys but then knowing when you put your helmet on and go on the ice, it's all business."
The business on the ice has been slowly coming around for Bogosian, who missed those 25 games with a lower body injury. In his first six games back he averaged just over 19 minutes of ice time. And as much as the Sabres have benefited from his poise, there's still more to come from his game.
"You know, I feel better and better," Bogosian said. "It's tough to jump in, in December, when guys have already had their legs under them for a few months but I just try to go out there and play smart. I don't think me going out there and playing reckless helps. I've got to be smart about what I'm doing out there because I haven't played. I missed 25 games. I feel good. I just think it will come with time. That's for sure."
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Some of the best news in the Sabres organization continues to come from its American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
On Wednesday, the Amerks defeated the Utica Comets, 3-1, extending their point streak to 10 games. It's the longest streak since the Amerks tied the franchise record with 11 straight wins from Oct. 12 to Nov. 10 of the 2009-10 season.
Rochester has points in 16 of its last 17 games and has lost only twice in regulation dating to Nov. 1.
And those results are bringing smiles to the Sabres staff.
"It's great," Housley said. "I think Chris (Taylor) has done a great job down there with that team all buying in and playing a team game. The result are reflective of that. Anytime our guys down there can have success, once they get up here they can rely on that experience."
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Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu practiced with the team Thursday morning in Philadelphia but was out of the lineup for the fifth straight game. He is recovering from an illness.
"I think he still needs to regain some strength but he's come a long way since where he was at," Housley said.
Still on the Sabres injury reserve are defenseman Taylor Fedun (lower body), who missed his 15th game, and forward Jacob Josefson (ankle), who missed his eighth game.
The lineup against the Flyers remained the same as the Sabres last game when they defeated Ottawa, 3-2, in KeyBank Center.