SUNRISE, Fla. – Kyle Okposo answered the challenge of New York Rangers defenseman Anthony DeAngelo on Friday night and the resulting one-punch knockdown is now officially a major concern for the Buffalo Sabres.
Okposo, a veteran winger, has returned to Buffalo and get further medical analysis after taking a shot to the chin from DeAngelo during a brief fight in the third period of the Sabres' 6-2 loss.
Okposo took the team flight to New Jersey on Saturday and was seen talking to trainers and going into an examination room prior to Sunday's loss to the Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark. But he did not warm up and was a scratch from Buffalo's 4-1 defeat.
Okposo was not on the ice at practice Monday in BB&T Center as the Sabres prepared for Tuesday's game against the Florida Panthers.
"Kyle is back in Buffalo getting further evaluated," was coach Phil Housley's cryptic answer when asked about Okposo's status.
Pressed on his level of concern about the winger's health, Housley simply said, "I don't have any information up to this point but he went back to Buffalo to get further evaluated by our doctors."
Housley said Saturday that Okposo did not suffer a concussion as a result of the fight. That was initially a relief to the team, of course, because of the life-altering issues Okposo had in the summer of 2017 as post-concussion reactions landed him in the Neuro ICU unit of Buffalo General Medical Center.
The team has yet to say Okposo is again in any kind of concussion protocol, although he crumpled to the ice after absorbing the punch and skated slowly to the dressing room after it. There were audible gasps in the KeyBank Center crowd at the sight of Okposo down on the ice.
Okposo, 30, has 10 goals and 12 assists in 57 games for the Sabres this season, with Sunday's contest the first one he has missed this season. He is in the third season of a seven-year, $42-million contract he signed with the Sabres in 2016.
In other injury news, Housley said defenseman Marco Scandella has been downgraded to week to week with an upper-body injury. Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian did not practice for what the coach termed maintenance days.
The Sabres shuffled their lines at practice Monday, putting Jason Pominville back with Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel after Sam Reinhart played in that spot Sunday.
Reinhart skated Monday with Conor Sheary and Casey Mittelstadt. Evan Rodrigues was centering the third line between C.J. Smith and Tage Thompson while the fourth line had Johan Larsson between Vladimir Sobotka and Zemgus Girgensons.
Housley said he was looking for better balance in the lines, which seems to be the case when Reinhart plays down away from Eichel.
"I've been through it enough to know to just play my game and not worry about who you're playing with," said Pominville, who has struggled to score when he's not on Eichel's line. "Go out there, focus on what you have to do and what you have to bring. When you play with a guy like Jack, you want to not overdo things or just give him the puck constantly. You can get away from the things you do well, so I just try to focus on those and try to help him in that way."
In the face of their deepest struggles of the season, it's not a great time for the Sabres to face the Panthers. They snapped a seven-game losing streak against Florida with a 4-3 win Jan. 3 in Buffalo, but have dropped five straight in Sunrise.
The Panthers posted a 3-2 overtime win here on Nov. 30 on an Aleksander Barkov goal, and their five straight home wins over Buffalo are their most since joining the NHL in 1993.
Florida is 8-4 in its last 12 games, including Sunday's 6-3 win over Montreal. That game was highlighted by Barkov's spectacular between-the-legs goal against Canadiens goalie Carey Price.