Nathan Gerbe practiced with Mikhail Grigorenko and Steve Ott on Wednesday. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Gerbe close to returning; Enroth to get first start

BUFFALO – While Nathan Gerbe still had to be cleared to play Wednesday, it appears the feisty Sabres winger could make his season debut tonight in Carolina after undergoing offseason spine surgery.

Gerbe skated on the wing Wednesday beside 18-year-old rookie Mikhail Grigorenko and Steve Ott, his first action on a regular line this year.

“We’ll see where he’s at (today),” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said following practice inside the First Niagara Center.

Gerbe underwent a procedure called a Discectomy L5-SI for an L4 herniated disc in July. He won’t be tentative, however. He plans to play his regular hard-nosed style.

“I’m not shy. I want to get out there,” Gerbe said. “I’m not going to be afraid. I want to hit someone. I want to get some hits out of the way. That’s probably going to make me calm down.”

Meanwhile, backup goalie Jhonas Enroth could receive his first start of the season tonight. Ryan Miller played the first two games.

Ruff, who’s notoriously secretive about his starting netminder, said Enroth would play tonight or Friday at home against Carolina.

Then he dropped a hint.

“I think it’s important to get him going,” Ruff said. “It’s also important (because) we’ve got five games in really less than eight (days). You look at it that way, we need to get him in there. At the same time, we need to keep Ryan fresh.

“I thought (Enroth) looked great the whole week of camp. The longer you wait, I think it’s tough on him. The sooner we get him in, the better.”

Ruff then walked off smiling. He recently said Enroth would play about 10 or 12 of the 48 games.

Winger Ville Leino (lower body) sat out Wednesday’s practice.

“It seemed like he wasn’t gaining any traction by trying to skate and seeing where he’s at,” Ruff said. “The thought now is maybe getting him a couple days off the ice and see if we can improve his situation that way.”

Leino had been skating with Grigorenko and Ott. Jochen Hecht, who centered John Scott and Patrick Kaleta Wednesday, subbed for Leino the first two games.

Now Grigorenko’s getting another linemate.

“He’s going to have to get used to that,” Ruff said.

Grigorenko doesn’t mind the changes.

“They’re great players,” the Russian said.

Notes: Ruff said forward Cody McCormick (finger) is “getting better.” … Matt Ellis could be the odd man out tonight if Gerbe returns. … The Sabres’ season-opening 5-2 home victory Sunday drew a 20.1 Buffalo rating and 34 share, the highest ever for a regular-season game other than the 2008 Winter Classic.

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