BUFFALO – For once, center Mikhail Grigorenko can relax a little bit. Eighteen games are left in the Sabres’ trying season. The NHL’s weakest lineup needs reinforcements.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan wouldn’t commit to Grigorenko staying for the rest of the year. But the Russian should get a long look after getting recalled from Rochester again Thursday.
This could be Grigorenko’s best opportunity since his rookie season two years ago.
Grigorenko, the 12th pick in 2012, was excited when he spotted a white practice jersey hanging in his locker Thursday. That meant he would be centering the second line between Marcus Foligno and captain Brian Gionta.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity for me to play with those guys,” Grigorenko said inside HarborCenter after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s road game against the Ottawa Senators.
Grigorenko returned from a knee injury last Friday. He said he feels fine and took his time recovering after getting hurt Jan. 30. The injury helps him battle in the corners because he has a lower center of gravity, he said.
The Sabres summoned Grigorenko on Tuesday but scratched him before sending him back. He scored a goal Wednesday in Utica.
“As far as practice is concerned, I thought he skated as well as I’ve seen him skate,” Nolan said Thursday after watching Grigorenko.
Grigorenko hardly impressed during 12 NHL appearances earlier this season, scoring one goal and two points. He has been solid all season with the Amerks, however, compiling 11 goals and 32 points in 39 games.
“I think I’ll just try to play my game and try to do what I did this year in Rochester, try to play the offense and create some opportunities,” Grigorenko said about this recall.
Right now, Grigorenko’s not alone. Several youngsters, including center Phil Varone and Johan Larsson, have chances to impress with so many veterans gone.
“That’s one thing about life you look for all the time, you look for an opportunity,” Nolan said. “There’s a lot of guys that don’t have that opportunity to prove they can play at this level. These guys are getting a golden opportunity now. It’s all up to them. There’s no pressure involved with it, you just got to get out there and play.”
With Grigorenko centering the second line, Larsson moved between Nick Deslauriers and Cody Hodgson.
Doctors still haven’t determined why Sabres prospect Mark Pysyk collapsed during a pickup basketball game Saturday in Rochester, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. The defenseman was briefly hospitalized.
Pysyk could take part in some physical activity next week, “maybe even some skating,” Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy told the paper.
Given Buffalo’s proximity to Rochester and a goalie coach eight years removed from his playing career, Nolan isn’t concerned about having an emergency netminder.
“That’s why we signed Arturs Irbe,” Nolan joked. “That rarely happens, but you have to be prepared.”
On Tuesday, Florida Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas hurriedly dressed in the third period after Al Montoya, who relieved the injured starter Roberto Luongo, was also hurt.
The 41-year-old Tallas hasn’t played professionally in 10 years.
Montoya briefly stayed in the game, but eventually Luongo, who had been at a nearby medical facility, dressed again and returned.
When former Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth was injured Nov. 18, the 48-year-old Irbe came down from the press box, dressed and sat on the bench.
Notes: Nolan said winger Zac Dalpe, who was absent Thursday, returned home today for a family matter. He isn’t sure if Dalpe will be available tonight. … Amerks defenseman Jake McCabe suffered “what is very likely a concussion” Wednesday, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. There’s no timetable for a return.