Brendan Guhle (45) battles Toronto's Matt Martin in front of goalie Chad Johnson on Monday. ©2018, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Brendan Guhle, Casey Nelson reunited as defense pair

BUFFALO – For a chunk of the season, Sabres defensemen Brendan Guhle and Casey Nelson formed a strong AHL tandem, showcasing their speed and slick puck-moving skills together.

Then the Sabres recalled Guhle, 20, in early January for two games. A week later, they summoned Nelson, 25, and he quickly earned a regular spot.

So the two hadn’t played together for about two months until Sabres coach Phil Housley reunited them for Monday’s 5-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs inside KeyBank Center.

Prior to the game, Nelson said he expected they would “pick up where we left off” with the Rochester Americans.

“Absolutely,” Nelson said Monday morning. “It might take a few shifts to get back into the swing of things but, yeah, I don’t think that stuff goes away. It probably takes a long time for the chemistry we had in Roch to go away.”

The pair had some rough moments Monday and was on the ice for the Leafs’ second goal.

The Sabres recalled Guhle, their top defense prospect, on Sunday because “he just earned his right to get back up here,” Housley said. His speed was needed against the Leafs, one of the NHL’s quickest teams.

They also host the Calgary Flames, another fast team, Wednesday. So Guhle might be staying put.

“He’s going to be a big part of our team moving forward, so we want to get him some games at the NHL level,” Housley said. “But I really like the speed he brought last time he was up here, whether it was leading a rush or joining the rush, he has the ability in his first two or three strides to separate himself from people.”

Housley, of course, knows how well Guhle and Nelson played together in Rochester.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Housley said. “I didn’t get to see a lot of games in Rochester, but just hearing about what they brought to that team down there, breaking down forechecks. They had some good chemistry, so that’s why they’re put back together.”

Guhle, who has played six NHL games, said he wasn’t expecting to be recalled.

“But it was obviously a happy surprise,” he said. “I came to the rink (Sunday) and they told me I was going up.”

With so many raucous Leafs fans, Monday’s environment was new for Guhle.

“It’s great, all these little experiences you can get from moving forward are just going to help him in his development,” Housley said.

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Kyle Criscuolo was about to leave for the rink Sunday morning when Amerks coach Chris Taylor phoned him.

“He was giving me a little joke,” Criscuolo said Monday. “He said, ‘You’re not playing tonight.’ I said, ‘OK.’ He said, ‘You’re suspended. No, I’m kidding, you’re going up.’”

With a dearth of centers, the Sabres summoned Criscuolo, 25, for the second time this season.

Criscuolo left the game in the second period was a possible shoulder injury after Matt Martin hit him. Housley had no update on him following the game.

This recall, Criscuolo said, felt different than his first one. When the Sabres brought up the Harvard product in November, he had never played in the NHL and was only six weeks into his first season in the organization.

The eight-game NHL look provided the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Criscuolo some much-needed familiarity.

“It’s huge being back here for a second time,” said Criscuolo, who has zero NHL points. “Having been up and been around the guys really I think is the biggest thing. You’re more familiar with the guys you’re going to be playing with and you’re more familiar with the coaching staff.”

He added: “When you’ve been somewhere before, you definitely feel more comfortable.”

Like Guhle, the Sabres want Criscuolo to utilize his speed. Housley played him between Benoit Pouliot and Nick Baptiste against the Leafs, the Sabres’ third line.

“Crisco has had a terrific year down in Rochester,” Housley said. “(We) brought him up early in the year, he didn’t get any offensive production, sent him back down to work on his game. He’s provided that for Rochester. This is why he’s getting an opportunity.”

Criscuolo has compiled 15 goals and 34 points in 50 games with the Amerks. Among other things, he said he has spent the past few months working on his faceoffs.

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With Guhle and Criscuolo up, the Sabres scratched defenseman Justin Falk and winger Seth Griffith. Defenseman Josh Gorges, meanwhile, sat out his fourth straight game.

Center Evan Rodrigues (upper body) missed his second straight game.

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