BUFFALO – Losing defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a season-ending injury and winger Jack Quinn for six to eight weeks could extinguish the Sabres’ faint playoff hopes.
The Sabres, who practiced Sunday in KeyBank Center following their bye week and NHL All-Star break, must erase a 10-point deficit without two of their top talents.
But forget, for a moment, about their on-ice contributions. Suddenly losing two popular teammates could rattle the Sabres’ psyche.
Watching Quinn, 22, suffer an ugly lower-body injury Jan. 27 clearly jolted the Sabres. Quinn, who recently underwent surgery, did not sustain any damage to his Achilles or knee, according to the team.
Then the Sabres announced following Sunday’s nearly 90-minute practice that Samuelsson, 23, must undergo surgery to repair the upper-body injury he suffered Jan. 23.
That’s a heck of a one-two wallop.
Quinn scored five goals and 12 points in 17 games after spending six months recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
“It’s pretty devastating,” Sabres center Dylan Cozens said of his linemate’s injury. “I mean, as soon as you saw him go down there, our hearts just sank, we’re praying it’s not his Achilles again. So it’s good that’s it’s not, I guess, but at the same time, you feel so bad for him. He worked so hard and spent so much time doing rehab.
“He was playing so great. To see him go down again, everyone just feels really bad for him. It’s awful.”
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said he could see in Quinn’s eyes “he was scared.”
“His mood after the game was not fun to watch, either,” he said. “I hope he gets the speedy recovery because he does not deserve this.”
While coach Don Granato understands they’ve lost two significant players – “Those are key guys and very talented guys,” he said – he believes the maturity the Sabres have recently showcased can help them handle their absences.
The Sabres compiled a 7-4-0 record in January.
“I feel the other guys that are going to have to step up, that you’re going to call on and are going to fill more minutes are in a way better mind frame than they were,” Granato said. “Their psyche’s way better than it was a month ago. So we lose these guys but I still feel very confident in the group that’s going to have to pick up the slack for missing these guys.”
To wit: this season, the Sabres have compiled a 7-0-1 without Samuelsson, a shutdown defenseman who often plays on the first pair alongside Dahlin. Last season, they went 9-15-3 when Samuelsson was injured.
“The wins and losses without Samuelsson this year compared to a year ago, you can see we’ve progressed in that area defensively,” Granato said. “It’s different than it might have been a month ago. I feel more confident in our group now to handle more workload, which is going to have to happen.”
With Quinn injured, Granato elevated rookie Zach Benson, 18, to left wing on the second line alongside Cozens and JJ Peterka.
Benson, who recently sat out one game, has scored four goals and 14 points in 38 games this season.
“It’s an opportunity,” Granato said. “Zach’s been great in a top-nine role. I thought he got a little, the grind of the season got to him a little bit. I think this break is good for everybody. I think it’s certainly good for that, for guys that feel a grind and nagging injuries, those sorts of things. But I do think he’s ready to step in.”
In other news, winger Zemgus Girgensons (upper body, one game) and defenseman Erik Johnson (upper body, four games) both practiced Sunday. Granato expects them to be cleared to play today. He doesn’t expect the Sabres to recall anyone.
The Sabres host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, the start of a four-game home stand.
Cozens said the Sabres’ have recently felt a sense of urgency. He knows they must rattle off wins.
“As of late, we realized where we’re at in the season,” he said. “We know we need to dial it. … We need to start winning now, and that’s the mindset. We know we’re not out of it. Everyone can say we’re out of it, but we know we’re not out of it.
“We go on a run here, we’re right back there, and we’re not giving up. We’re going to have a big push here in the next bit and we’re going to be right back in the mix. It’s all belief in this room.”