Rasmus Dahlin returns to Capital One Arena for Saturday night's game between the Sabres and Washington Capitals. It will be a tad quieter than the last time he was there.
It was just over six months ago that Dahlin, then the top prospect for the NHL Draft, saw the first NHL game of his life in the building as the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights played Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
Dahlin and several other top prospects attended the morning skates for both teams, with Dahlin eyeing Alexander Ovechkin and meeting one of his favorite players from Sweden in Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom before checking out the stick rack in the Vegas locker room. The same room where he will spend Saturday night.
"It's going to be special for me," Dahlin said after practice Friday in HarborCenter. "Playing Ovechkin and then playing Backstrom, who's been one of my biggest idols since I started playing hockey is going to be huge. But it has to be like every other game: You go out and play my game and not focus on them too much."
Dahlin admitted there were times early this season where he was checking out who was on the other side of the ice in disbelief. He's already transitioned to worrying about the opposition only from the standpoint of how to beat them.
"It's pretty easy right now but in the beginning I was pretty star-struck some times when I come on the ice," he said. "But I'm learning fast. They're just hockey players too. You go out there and don't think too much."
Dahlin's game was won by the Capitals, 6-2, three days before their Game Five clincher in Vegas sealed their first Cup in franchise history.
"It was a sick game. The crowd was loud," he recalled. "They scored some pretty cool goals and it was great to see that as a first NHL game. It's weird when you say six months ago. It's pretty crazy. I was there, really couldn't believe I was in that room. Now I'm playing against them. It is what it is. You can't think too much."
Dahlin played 21 minutes, 23 seconds in Thursday's 3-1 win over Arizona, his 12th straight game over 20 minutes. He has two goals and 12 assists on the season but has been stuck at 14 points for seven straight games.
That said, his ice time has mushroomed of late with his growing confidence on the ice – and the coaching staff's burgeoning faith in his play. He has eclipsed 24 minutes four times in recent games, topped by the 29:15 he played in last week's overtime thriller against Toronto.
"It's fun when you play a lot but you need to earn it," he said. "That's what I've been trying to do."
Defenseman Zach Bogosian went over 25 minutes for the third time in four games Thursday, clocking in at 25:10 –- including a monstrous total of 11:13 in the third period when the Sabres were first nursing a one-goal lead and then dealing with a 6-on-4 situation after taking a late penalty after Arizona had pulled goalie Darcy Kuemper.
"He looked like a man possessed out there. He was very physical," said coach Phil Housley. "... He rose to the occasion, provided us some intense physicality and it's good to see the emotions get high out there."
The Sabres had a makeshift defense at practice Friday with Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen and Lawrence Pilut all taking maintenance days. They will all play Saturday Marco Scandella again practiced and Housley said he was encouraged by the veteran's progress. The Sabres will decide Saturday if Scandella will play.
Housley said forward Scott Wilson, who had surgery for a broken ankle suffered late in training camp, has skated several times on his own and is close to returning to practice.
The Sabres are not expected to have a morning skate Saturday because Capital One Arena will be used for a basketball game between Georgetown and SMU. One option would be to take the ice after the Capitals at Washington's practice facility in Arlington, Va., but traffic and transporting of equipment will likely have the team pass on that possibility.
The game Sunday in Boston is a 5 p.m. start so there was no morning skate planned because of the early faceoff.