Casey Mittelstadt left the morning skate Tuesday because of a lower-body injury and was out of the lineup against the New York Islanders in KeyBank Center.
Mittelstadt, a 20-year-old rookie center, was a game time decision because of a “little bang,” according to coach Phil Housley, and did not participate in pregame warm-up ahead of puck drop. In his place, winger C.J. Smith moved back into the lineup and Evan Rodrigues centered the second line.
It was the first game Mittelstadt has missed all season and it is unclear when he suffered the injury, which delivered another blow to the Sabres’ center depth. Vladimir Sobotka moved to center the third line.
Smith, 24, was a healthy scratch for the Sabres’ 3-1 win Saturday over Detroit and 3-1 loss to Winnipeg Sunday, despite scoring two goals in his first six games with the Sabres this season. He had 18 goals among 41 points in 41 games for Rochester prior to being recalled last Monday – his second promotion of the season.
It appeared Smith was brought back to provide secondary scoring and the player he replaced on the roster, Remi Elie, had only one assist in 16 games. However, Smith was scratched the previous two games in favor of Tage Thompson, while Sobotka, who had zero goals in 39 games entering Tuesday, remained in the lineup.
Housley said the move was part of Smith’s “development,” and offered a similar explanation when Thompson had previously been scratched. Smith watched both games from the press box, where he took note of open space on the ice during Sabres possessions and reflected on how he would/should approach certain situations.
“That obviously still helps,” Smith explained. “You’re practicing with these guys. You’re competing with guys at a high level, high skill, so being on the ice with them as much as possible helps. I’m trying to take in some knowledge and be the best I can be every day.
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Smith had 17 goals among 44 points in 57 games last season. He has played on both the power play and penalty kill in Rochester, and that versatility should make him valuable for the Sabres during the stretch run.
Though Mittelstadt’s injury did not sound serious, it creates a void at center. Now, Sobotka has to center a third line that benefited from Rodrigues’ recent surge, and Mittelstadt’s play had improved drastically over the past month.
Mittelstadt, drafted eighth overall by the Sabres in 2017, has eight goals among 19 points with a minus-5 rating in 55 games. Most recently, he created instant chemistry with Sam Reinhart and Conor Sheary, giving Buffalo the effective second line it lacked earlier in the season.
Additionally, defenseman Zach Bogosian missed a second consecutive game because of a lower-body injury.
Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was a health scratch for the 19th time in 23 games, despite Bogosian being out of the lineup. Matt Hunwick played for a second consecutive game, skating alongside Rasmus Dahlin.
Beaulieu, who reportedly requested to be traded last month if his playing time did not increase, has not been in the lineup since a 1-0 loss in Dallas Jan. 30. Housley said the decision to play Hunwick Sunday against Winnipeg stemmed from the 33-year-old’s performance against Columbus on Jan. 29.
Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak will miss at least the next two weeks after undergoing a procedure on his thumb, the team’s General Manager, Don Sweeney, announced Tuesday morning.
Pastrnak, 22, has 31 goals and 35 assists this season for the Bruins, who entered the day third in the Atlantic Division with a nine-point lead over the Sabres. The two teams won’t play again in the regular season.
Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin was suspended one game, without pay, for high-sticking Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl Monday night. Malkin was assessed a match penalty for the incident, which appeared to be retaliation for Raffl punching Malkin in the back of the helmet.
Like all suspensions, Malkin’s forfeited game check will go the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.