BUFFALO – Without his explosiveness and the ability to juke opponents, speedy Sabres winger Tyler Ennis believes he’s “pretty useless out there.”
“I have to be able to use my agility, my speed, my quickness to create space,” Ennis said Thursday morning after skating with his teammates inside KeyBank Center.
Ennis, 27, couldn’t do any of that earlier this season. The longest-tenured Sabre said he felt something “gradually getting worse” in his groin. An examination found tears, so he underwent surgery for a groin and hernia problem Nov. 10.
“It was really limiting me, and a guy like myself, I have to kind of be able to skate fast and to be agile and be quick,” Ennis said. “I wasn’t able to do that, so it was important to get the surgery done.”
Thursday marked Ennis’ return to team skates. He participated in a non-contact role prior to the Sabres’ 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. He has been rehab skating with assistant coach Dennis Miller, who puts injured players through game situations.
“I still got to get everything feeling 100 percent, so today was a good first step,” Ennis said.
Ennis, who has missed 23 games, has no timeline for a return.
“It’s still a fairly long road for Tyler to assimilate and get back into playing a game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
Ennis said: “Groins are tricky. It took a little bit to heal up and stuff. It’s been frustrating, but I’ve had a lot of good treatment and the trainers have done a good job.”
The last year has been arduous for Ennis. Fresh off his second straight 20-goal campaign, his second concussion of 2015-16 one year ago today ended his season.
“It’s about as tough a thing as you can go through as a hockey,” Ennis said of the injuries. “We all want to be out there, hockey’s our life. So it’s frustrating, but I know once I get my body healed up 100 percent I’m going to be a better player.”
Ennis has one goal and two points in 12 games this season.
Update: The reeling Sabres have recalled winger Justin Bailey, 21, from the Rochester Americans. Bailey has 13 goals and 22 points in 33 AHL games, including five goals and seven points in the last five contests. The Williamsville native played two NHL games earlier this season.
Rookie winger William Carrier hurt his hand Thursday.
When the Sabres acquired Dmitry Kulikov from the Florida Panthers in June, they envisioned the Russian as a minute-munching partner for No. 1 defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.
Six months later, Kulikov, thanks to a lower-back injury he has battled all season, has had little or no impact in only 20 appearances.
The injury sidelined Kulikov, 26, again Thursday. Bylsma said Kulikov is day-to-day.
“It’s something that Dmitry’s dealt with a long time,” Bylsma said. “It just flared up over the (Christmas) break, three days off.”
Bylsma added: “We desperately need him to get back in there.”
Kulikov, who has just one assist, bruised his back when he was knocked into an open bench door Sept. 30, his Sabres preseason debut.
“Just getting back and assimilating into his game and how he can play for us, that’s been a challenge for us,” Bylsma said. “He’s been a big part of our defense, a big part of how we want to play. He hasn’t been able to be there through the first 34 games on a regular basis.”
With Kulikov out, defenseman Cody Franson returned after a lower-body/muscle injury sidelined him three games.
“It’s tough to watch,” Franson said. “I was in a spot where I was pretty confident in my game, I thought I was doing some good things.”
Entering Thursday, Sabres winger Marcus Foligno had fought three times in four games, as many scraps as the young veteran had in his previous 58 outings.
Why has Foligno, 25, been fighting so much recently?
“There’s games where I feel like we haven’t played our best, so you need a spark … you might show a little bit of frustration out there,” Foligno said.
Frustration and payback. In Friday’s ugly 5-1 road loss to the New York Islanders, Foligno fought Johnny Boychuk, retribution for the defenseman’s hit from behind on Sabres center Jack Eichel a week earlier.
“It is him stepping up, recognizing the time and the place for our team,” Bylsma said. “I think the one (in Brooklyn) was an answer back to a hard play on Jack the previous game, and one I think we all took note of. It was a good time to do it.”
Foligno, who has 22 fights in his career, according to hockeyfights.com, said “it’s fun to do.”
“I enjoy it,” he said. “As long as you’re not getting hit too hard, it’s fine. But it’s part of the game. I think it’s there for a reason. All the guys, you can go around to every NHL locker room, a fight builds chemistry of a team and it shows people care.”