BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is a “little sore” and will miss tonight’s tilt against his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, coach Phil Housley said.
But if Beaulieu, 25, hadn’t taken a puck to his upper body last game, he would still be scratched.
“He was not playing in this game tonight,” Housley said this morning.
Defenseman Josh Gorges, a Canadiens regular for eight seasons, will return tonight. Gorges, 33, has sat out four straight games and nine of the last 11.
Beaulieu has endured a rough season, never getting on track. He struggled from the get-go after Housley awarded him a spot beside No. 1 defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen on opening night. Beaulieu has also battled an injury and two illnesses.
“Beau had a tough start to the season,” Housley said inside KeyBank Center. “I think that affected his confidence. He had a great opportunity coming to a new team and things just didn’t work out for him.
“But his last 20 games have been pretty solid. I think he’s been better in his own end, I think he’s been trying to add to the offense. But again, there’s a couple critical times and errors in games that affected our team. Just giving some other guys an opportunity.”
He added: “His defensive reads and his defensive awareness, I think he’s just got to get stronger in those areas.”
Is Housley sending Beaulieu a message benching him against his old team? It certainly seems like it.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s just the timing of the game. It wouldn’t have mattered who we played this night.”
Winger Justin Bailey and defenseman Justin Falk will also be scratched. Defenseman Victor Antipin will return after sitting out two games.
Why scratch Bailey, 22, a prospect whose speed the Sabres sorely need?
“Just changes, we’ve lost the last two games in a row,” Housley said. “I think he’s playing hard, he’s playing physical but we haven’t won in the last two games.”
Winger Zemgus Girgensons, out the last two games with an upper-body injury, will return tonight. Housley said the Latvian will play at left wing beside center Jack Eichel and winger Jason Pominville.
“Ever since he sat out that game (in December), he’s taken his game to a new level,” Housley said. “I like his physicality. He will be playing on that line with Jack and Pommer. He brings a physical element, he’s one of our best penalty killers and he’s willing to block shots, get in harm’s way.
“But I think he brings a work ethic that we’re looking for. Getting in on the forecheck, going to the net, getting to the tough areas. That’s how he’s going to complement Jack.”
Goalie Linus Ullmark will start tonight, his third nod this season. Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi will oppose him.
Housley said goalie Chad Johnson, who left Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Arizona after a puck hit his mask, skated this morning.