Dmitry Kulikov has battled a back injury all season. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Dmitry Kulikov nearing return as Josh Gorges leaves lineup

BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges has a non-displaced fracture in his foot and will be sidelined “weeks,” coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday.

There is, however, some good news for the Sabres’ injury-ravaged blue line, which is missing three regulars. Dmitry Kulikov, out the last 11 games with a back injury, practiced Sunday inside HarborCenter and is day-to-day, Bylsma said.

Still, the Russian likely won’t play in tonight’s road tilt against the Washington Capitals. Later in the week appears to be the likely target time.

And incredibly, the Sabres might have to find another defenseman before tonight’s game. Taylor Fedun is questionable after getting hit in the corner late in Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 loss to Boston, Bylsma said.

“It’s unfortunate,” Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly said of the defense, which is also missing Zach Bogosian. “We can’t seem to get a bounce. It goes back to last month, the amount of games that we played (14), not enough off days, it’s just tough to stay healthy. It just seems like every time we get one guy back, another guy goes down.”

The Sabres dipped into junior hockey last week to boost their beleaguered defense, recalling Brendan Guhle, 19, on an emergency basis after Gorges blocked a shot in Thursday’s 4-3 win against the New York Rangers.

Which defenseman could be summoned next? Perhaps Rochester Americans veteran Erik Burgdoerfer, 27, who has never played an NHL game.

Update: Burgdoerfer has been recalled.

Bylsma has mentioned Burgdoerfer, who signed a two-way contract in July, as a recall candidate all season. Burgdoerfer, a right-handed shot like Fedun, impressed Bylsma during training camp, earning some exhibition appearances.

Meanwhile, Kulikov’s bruised lower back – it endured the brunt of the impact when he was knocked into an open bench door Sept. 30, his Sabres preseason debut – hasn’t healed.

“It’s actually been bothering me since training camp,” Kulikov said. “It’s been getting worse to the point where it’s been interfering with the day-to-day life.”

Kulikov, who said there are no fractures, missed the season opener before playing the next 12 games. But the pain eventually forced him out of the lineup. He has been receiving injections.

“Sometimes it works right away,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a couple weeks to work. … It was just frustrating to wait.”

Having never experienced the injury before, Kulikov said “sometimes I didn’t know how to handle it.”

“The next day I woke up and it was worse than ever,” he said. “It was up and down and gradually getting better.”

Until Kulikov returns, the Sabres might keep relying on Guhle, who stood out in his NHL debut Saturday, playing aggressively in 16 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time.

“It was an interesting situation for him to come and be able to jump into the fire like that,” Bylsma said.

Guhle, of course, is a familiar face to Bylsma. The 2015 second-round pick almost cracked the Sabres out of training camp the last two years.

“You have to acknowledge that you have to trust the player in the situation,” Bylsma said. “You can talk him being a 19-year-old kid, you can talk about his inexperience, his first NHL game. We called him up because we trust him, we trust him in that situation. He frankly did real well, looked real comfortable … in the situation.”

Bylsma seems fine with Guhle potentially facing superstar Alex Ovechkin, one of he greatest goal scorers ever, tonight.

“Now you’re going and playing the Washington Capitals, and I think you can think about the situations he’s going to be in, might be and against who,” Bylsma said. “You have to trust the kid. … With a little bit of play in last game, (he) earned a little bit of that trust.”

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