The Buffalo Sabres' defense could be closer to full strength when they return to Washington for a Friday prime-time matchup against the Capitals in Capital One Arena.
Jake McCabe and Lawrence Pilut, both on injured reserve, could return to the lineup either Friday against the Capitals or Saturday when the Sabres host the Anaheim Ducks in KeyBank Center, coach Phil Housley told reporters Tuesday morning.
McCabe, who has missed the past nine games with an upper-body injury, joined the Sabres for Tuesday's morning skate and has participated in on-ice workouts with Dennis Miller, the Sabres' rehab and development coach, for eight of the past nine days. Pilut, meanwhile, has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury but did not skate with the team Tuesday.
Additionally, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, who was injured in the second period of a 4-3 shootout loss in Washington Saturday, remains day to day with a lower-body injury, and Casey Nelson has yet to resume skating with the team. Winger Scott Wilson has yet to rejoin the team since breaking his ankle before the season opener but is expected to resume practicing soon.
"It’s good to see," Housley said Tuesday. "A lot of guys are starting to get close. Good to have Jake back in our pregame skate. It’s going to be good to get him back in some live practices."
McCabe, 25, was playing the best hockey of his career prior to the injury, which was suffered during a 5-4 loss in Tampa on Nov. 29. He had two goals among 10 points with a plus-2 rating while averaging 18:51 over 25 games. McCabe was also a key cog in the Sabres' penalty kill, which had allowed four power-play goals in 27 opportunities prior to his injury.
McCabe, who was limited to 53 games last season, told reporters the injury was more severe than he anticipated. His workouts with Miller over the past nine days are designed to ensure he will have a seamless transition when rejoining the team. McCabe skated alongside Remi Elie during line rushes Tuesday and participated in penalty-kill drills against the Sabres' second power play.
"I feel great," McCabe said. "It's kind of a tough schedule to get back with the team with the limited practices and the back-to-back with a day off, which is kind of frustrating timing for me. But I watched those guys get three out of four [points] this weekend and I'm eager to get back."
Pilut, 22, had two assists and a plus-3 rating in his six games with the Sabres prior to suffering the injury. He missed practice last Friday for what Housley called "maintenance" and was placed on injured reserve ahead of Sunday's game in Boston.
In Pilut's absence, Matt Tennyson recorded a minus-3 in the 4-3 shootout loss in Washington, which prompted Buffalo to recall 21-year-old defenseman Brendan Guhle from Rochester. Guhle was a plus-1 and had one shot on goal Sunday in the 4-2 win over Boston, and Tennyson was sent back to Rochester on Monday morning.
Matt Hunwick, a 33-year-old defenseman acquired from Pittsburgh in June, also made his Sabres debut Sunday. He had not played an NHL game in more than eight months because of a neck injury suffered during an off-ice offseason workout.
While it remains unclear what Pilut's role will be upon his return, McCabe is sure to receive top-four minutes. He brings an edge to the ice by blocking shots and clearing traffic in front of the net. Marco Scandella, who missed eight games with an upper-body injury, returned to the lineup Saturday in Washington.
"I plan on it," McCabe said when asked if he will return this weekend. "Obviously I'm not in charge of the lineup, but I feel great. ... I'll be ready to go."
Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner were the NHL's highest-selling jerseys over the weekend, according to IceJerseys.com. It was the first time since Daniel Briere and Chris Drury in 2005 that two Sabres outsold the rest of the league.
Devante Stephens, a 21-year-old defenseman, was recalled by Rochester from Cincinnati on Tuesday morning. A fifth-round draft pick in 2015, Stephens has five goals among 15 points with a plus-22 rating in 24 games for the Cyclones this season and appeared in six games with the Americans last year.