Waiting game: Wingers Victor Olofsson (lower body) and Kyle Okposo (upper body) will return to the lineup Thursday night against Columbus.
Olofsson has participated in the Sabres' past two practices and the morning skate Tuesday. He has missed the past 15 games after his skate caught a divot on the ice, causing him to fall backward in the offensive zone against Edmonton on Jan. 2. The 24-year-old rookie had 16 goals with 19 assists in 42 games before suffering the injury.
"Extremely positively because he's that kind of a person," coach Ralph Krueger said when asked how Olofsson handled the injury. "I think he also had an opportunity to take a breath and watch the game from the outside. We actually just finished having a conversation with him about that, his experiences, what he saw, what he's learned. I feel because of the hockey intelligence he has, he's going to come out of this actually an even better player. He's done a fabulous job, he's remained close to the team the whole time."
Okposo, meanwhile, has been skating with the team since Tuesday after suffering what he described as a broken bone Jan. 30 against Montreal. The 31-year-old has five goals with seven assists in 40 games this season.
Marcus Johansson (upper body) is day to day after recording a goal and an assist Tuesday night against Detroit.
Possible lines: It is difficult to predict the Sabres' lines because they'll warm with 12 forwards and seven defensemen. Olofsson likely will be on the top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, while Okposo likely will skate with Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons.
Lawrence Pilut, Scott Wilson, Michael Frolik and Zach Bogosian skated Thursday morning for Buffalo. Wilson was assigned to Rochester following the skate. He had one goal and one assist in four games with the Sabres.
Here is how the Sabres lined up during practice Wednesday:
Interesting to see if timetable is accelerated at all for Olofsson/Okposo. Both on lines today. As of yesterday, neither expected this week.
Wilson extra. Johansson maintenance. #Sabres
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) February 12, 2020
Starter Hutton: The Sabres will turn to Carter Hutton in goal for the fifth time since Linus Ullmark suffered a lower-body injury Jan. 28. Hutton is 3-2 with a .910 save percentage during that span. Though the Blue Jackets did not hold a morning skate, they will start either Elvis Merzlikins or Matiss Kivlenieks.
Merzlikins, 25, is 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts and his .930 save percentage this season is tied for the best in the NHL. He also has five shutouts with a 2.19 goals-against average. Kivlenieks allowed two goals on 24 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Sabres on Feb. 1.
Shorthanded: The Blue Jackets encountered two more injuries this past week, as they lost defenseman Seth Jones (ankle) and winger Cam Atkinson (lower body). The former is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks. Columbus also is without Josh Anderson, Brandon Dubinsky, Joonas Korpisalo, Alexander Wennberg, Ryan Murray, Alexandre Texier and Dean Kukan.
Strength against weakness: Columbus has allowed two or fewer goals in 10 of its last 12 games, including just four goals over its recent four-game homestand. Since Jan. 11, the Blue Jackets have five shutouts and have surrendered 15 goals over 12 games. Their 1.60 goals against per game since Dec. 16 rank first in the NHL.
The Sabres, meanwhile, have allowed two or fewer goals in six of their past nine games.
Surging: Sam Reinhart has 16 points in 16 games since the beginning of January. His nine goals during that span were tied for the eighth-most in the league entering Wednesday, and he ranks second on the Sabres with 12 multipoint games this season. Buffalo is 9-2-1 this season and 40-7-8 in his career when Reinhart records at least two points.
Reinhart has 21 goals, four off his career high, and 26 assists with a minus-4 rating in 57 games this season. The 24-year-old is averaging a career-high 24:39 ice time per game.
2000s: The Sabres will honor their players from the 2000s before puck drop Thursday night, a decade that included the 2006 and 2007 Eastern Conference finalists. Former owner Tom Golisano and managing partners Larry Quinn and Dan DiPofi will be in KeyBank Center for the festivities. Daniel Briere, Tim Connolly, Jason Pominville, Brian Campbell and Paul Gaustad are among the players expected to attend.
Slump continues: Jeff Skinner's goal drought has reached a career-high 19 games. He has two assists with a minus-19 rating while averaging 15:51 of ice time during that span. Skinner has not scored a goal since Dec. 2, though he missed 10 games with an upper-body injury.