Evander Kane misssed 11 games. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ defense providing little offense; Evander Kane returns

BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Cody Franson isn’t concerned. Neither is coach Dan Bylsma.

Thirteen games into the season, the Sabres are the only team without a goal from a defenseman.

“I could care less if I score one goal in a season,” Franson said Wednesday prior to the Sabres’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators. “For me, assists, getting pucks there for other guys to score are just as important as how many goals I have.”

Said Bylsma: “Not necessarily concerned that they don’t have a goal.”

Bylsma just wants his defensemen to become aggressive pieces of the offense. The goal total doesn’t matter.

“We need to get better at … using our defensemen, getting them involved more in our five-on-five game offensively,” he said. “If we had one or two or three goals right now, that would still be the case.”

Bylsma added: “We’re very good at generating offense at below the top of the circles and down low. But we need to get all five guys involved and contributing in the offensive zone.”

Of course, an occasional goal would help the Sabres’ anemic offense. They had scored only 25 times, just 2.1 goals a game, entering Wednesday’s tilt inside KeyBank Center.

Eight of the defense’s 14 assists have come from Rasmus Ristolainen, who had nine goals last season. Four defensemen are still pointless. The group has combined for 75 shots on goal.

“I think there’s been a lot of shots, a goalie’s made a big save,” said Franson, who has three assists and 21 shots. “I think … we’ve done a good job of getting pucks to the net.”

The Sabres have struggled offensively without two of their top forwards. Twenty-goal winger Evander Kane returned Wednesday after missing 11 games with four broken ribs. Slick center Jack Eichel is recovering from a high left ankle sprain.

“It hurts every offensive side of the game,” Franson said of the injuries. “You lose your skill guys, you aren’t as creative in the offensive zone. … Things get simplified a little bit. You try to play a little bit more meat and potatoes, if you will, and that style is getting people in front of the net and getting shots there.”

Kane, out since Oct. 13, will likely have to endure some pain on the ice.

“It’s healed enough to where I can play and come back,” Kane said Wednesday morning. “I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of pain throughout the course of the next couple weeks.”

While Kane returned, top center Ryan O’Reilly missed Wednesday’s game with an undisclosed injury. The Sabres shifted winger Sam Reinhart to center between Kane and Kyle Okposo.

The Sabres also recalled winger Cole Schneider, the AHL’s leading scorer with 15 points, and sent winger Hudson Fasching to the Rochester Americans. Schneider, a Williamsville native, recorded his first NHL point on rookie Nick Baptiste’s first-period goal.

Fasching, out the last four games with a groin injury, is “right on the cusp of being ready to go,” Bylsma said.

Kane has been working out rigorously with assistant coach Dennis Miller. Kane felt so good last week he told Bylsma he would be ready for Wednesday.

Kane, 25, said he “couldn’t breathe for probably 20 seconds” after he crashed into the end boards opening night racing to a loose puck.

“I think that was the most alarming part,” he said. It was a tough night, but I feel good now.”

Kane wore a flak jacket to protect his ribs.

Sabres winger Tyler Ennis sat out Wednesday with what Bylsma called a “mid-body injury.” Bylsma said Ennis is still being evaluated.

Meanwhile, Eichel, out since Oct. 12, was examined by a doctor Wednesday, Bylsma said. Eichel could begin “progressing in workouts” soon, Bylsma said.

“I don’t want to suggest that it’s going to be today, tomorrow or the next day that he’s getting on the ice,” he said. “He’s progressing quite nicely. He’s been working out at another level in the last four or five days and hopefully he continues to progress to getting to the ice soon.”

The Sabres have said Eichel could miss six to eight weeks.

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