Defenseman Brandon Montour continues on pace to make his season debut with the Buffalo Sabres Friday night in Washington, but whom he plays with seems uncertain.
Paired with Rasmus Dahlin in practice Wednesday, Montour joined Colin Miller on Thursday while Dahlin returned to his most recent spot alongside Henri Jokiharju. Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen continue to play together while John Gilmour rotated in during drills.
"The practices with seven D, we're spreading out guys playing with other partners just to get through the drills equally," coach Ralph Krueger insisted. "There's no science to the pairs so far, but we feel comfortable moving our pairs around, changing them depending on the opposition. ... We've got a lot of permutations and combinations."
Krueger said he's happy with Montour's progress from his hand injury suffered in the second preseason game Sept. 17 in Columbus. The Sabres said Wednesday it's doubtful Montour would play both games this weekend. The club hosts the New York Islanders on Saturday night in KeyBank Center.
"Brandon is improving daily. His curve is definitely upwards," Krueger said. "We're happy with the puck skills that are showing up again and his mobility is increasing. I'm going to really get to know him now.
"It's a different animal than the preseason and we're excited for his hunger to be a gap-eating defenseman, to be an aggressive, on-his-toes defenseman without the puck, adding to the offense on the rush and jumping into the opportunities and transition we can create with our defense."
Forward Jimmy Vesey made a surprise return to practice and said he's hoping to return to the lineup for the game against the Islanders.
Vesey was listed as week-to-week with an upper-body injury when the Sabres issued their injury report on Monday but was a full participant Thursday. He even weaved into a couple of runs with linemates Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary during drills.
Vesey, who said he's been skating with injured defenseman Zach Bogosian, was injured during last Thursday's loss to the New York Rangers after a collision with former teammate Brady Skjei. Coincidentally, Skjei was among the players Vesey had gone to dinner with the night before the game.
"It was pretty innocent, actually. One of my buddies was the one who hit me," Vesey said Thursday. "I knew he was coming. … He just caught me in the perfect spot and a little discomfort."
Vesey is still looking for his first goal with the Sabres after 11 games. He has two assists.
The Sabres are working hard to not look past these two games, with Sunday's flight to Stockholm and next week's two games against Tampa Bay overseas looming on the schedule.
"Guys are excited about it but we do have four points to get here, which is the most important thing right now," said captain Jack Eichel. "They're going to be four hard points, two tough opponents and it's a great chance to show our maturity right now. Take care of business first. We're so excited about our trip and looking forward to going overseas, but we have to take care of this first."
Road teams went 17-3 this year during the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup final and World Series, capped by the Nationals-Astros series that was the first set in U.S. major pro sports in which the road team won all seven games. Putting on his sports psychology hat, how does Krueger explain this?
"All athletes are so much stronger mentally now," Krueger said. "The road atmospheres are becoming places where teams feed off and I also think on the road it's easier to stick to fundamentals and to play a team game, vs. at home there is a certain pressure that evolves in tight games. Probably like the World Series yesterday, guys start trying too hard when the team is not functioning. They fall back to individual skill vs. team power. On the road, it's easier to keep guys in a team mindframe for a longer time."
The Sabres haven't fallen victim to this trend yet. They're 5-0-1 at home, and join Boston and Vancouver as the only NHL teams without a regulation home loss this season.
"All sports we're seeing an evolution where at times there's almost a home disadvantage for teams," Krueger said. "It's interesting but we'll to continue to work on our strength at home. In the KeyBank Center, we feel powerful, we feel strong and excited and we're going to do everything to maintain the strong home presence."