An upper-body injury that bothered Marcus Johansson in recent weeks will keep the center out of the Buffalo Sabres' lineup for at least the next three games.
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger told reporters following the morning skate that Johansson would not play Thursday night against Carolina or during the team's back-to-back games against Ottawa and Chicago on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Though the injury is not thought to be long-term, Krueger said the Sabres wanted to give Johansson time to rest and rehab for the rest of the week.
Johansson, who signed a two-year contract with the Sabres in July, has four goals among 10 points in 17 games this season. He did not miss time during the Sabres' loss to Tampa Bay last Saturday in Stockholm, finishing with one assist and three shots on goal in 19:46 of ice time. His absence will test Buffalo forward depth for the first time this season. Vladimir Sobotka is out four-to-six weeks with a lower-body injury, which forced the Sabres to recall Curtis Lazar from Rochester prior to practice Wednesday.
Evan Rodrigues is filling in at center with Johansson out and Lazar drew into the lineup for the Sabres' game Thursday night against Carolina.
"It's not a day-to-day, but it's definitely short term," Krueger said. "It's more an issue we want to make sure it's not a long-term loss and getting right back up to speed. A good chance for us to see Curtis Lazar. We like what he's been showing the first two days."
The Sabres were already thin at center since Casey Mittelstadt had begun to struggle defensively. The 20-year-old was moved to wing last Saturday against Tamp Bay and recorded no shots on goal in 14:20. Additionally, Rodrigues has been a scratch in all nine of the Sabres' first 17 games.
Johansson had not been a full-time center in recent years, yet he provided a stabilizing force for the Sabres and formed instant chemistry with Jeff Skinner. Johansson also contributed on the power play and helped alleviate Buffalo's struggles entering the offensive zone.
Lazar, a former first-round draft pick, had four goals among nine points in 11 games with Rochester. He signed a one-year, one-way contract with the Sabres when free agency opened July 1st.
"We also believe he can add depth scoring into the roster, can add some grit and bite," Krueger said of Lazar. "Just let him go and play [Thursday] and we'll assess it. We just see a player that has multiple assets that can be used depending upon what the team needs. His ability to play center and wing, all of that, shows the intelligence he has for the game."
Colin Miller, a 26-year-old defenseman acquired from Vegas in June, was a healthy scratch Thursday for the first time this season. The Sabres have eight healthy defensemen, plus Zach Bogosian, who practiced Wednesday for the first time since last season.
Krueger told reporters following practice Wednesday he could use a rotation on defense because of the chaotic 21-game schedule between Thursday and Christmas. Miller and John Gilmour were the odd-men out against the Hurricanes with Marco Scandella back from a lower-body injury.
Miller has four assists while averaging 18:40 of ice time over the Sabres’ first 17 games.
“We had a lot of defensemen in Vegas, so I guess it’s a rotation and that,” Miller said. “Just be ready to play when you’re called upon.”
The Sabres aren’t going to be limited to a traditional lineup that includes 12 forwards and six defensemen. Krueger said he would be open to scratching a forward in favor of dressing an extra defensemen. His focus is on piecing together a lineup that gives the Sabres their best chance to win.
“I have no problem using 11 forwards,” Krueger said. “We've had a couple times this year when somebody fell out early. ... It's a little more difficult bringing seven D in, but with 11 forwards you really have everybody in the game and it's actually something that forwards have fun with. For the D, seven in the National Hockey League is not the norm, but it's something we will definitely be considering game to game.”