Casey Nelson has played 26 games this season. ©2019, Janet Schultz

Sabres notes: Casey Nelson returns after one-game benching

BUFFALO – The night after Nikita Zadorov drilled Sabres captain Jack Eichel high after the whistle, Casey Nelson said he couldn’t sleep.

The defenseman said he was looking through three players Saturday afternoon in Colorado and didn’t see Zadorov hit Eichel into the boards and rip off his helmet.

That’s why Nelson glided up to Zadorov and never went after the Avalanche defenseman.

On Thursday morning, Nelson’s tepid reaction was still bothering him.

“I didn’t sleep after I saw the video,” Nelson said prior to the Sabres’ 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins inside KeyBank Center. “That’s pretty much all I’ve thought about the past number of days. I mean, there’s not a lot I can do about it other than I can tell you my response wouldn’t have been the same if I knew that I got hit in the head.”

If Nelson had seen what happened to Eichel, he would’ve offered a stronger response.

“I feel totally different after I saw the hit, because I didn’t know he got hit in the head and I don’t have the seven camera angles to see that he actually got hit in the head,” Nelson said. “I was the only one directly behind him, so I didn’t actually see he got hit in the head. That’s all I’m going to say there.”

Sabres coach Phil Housley said earlier this week “we had a discussion” with Nelson, who was scratched for Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Dallas Stars.

“It was addressed with him,” Housley said Thursday. “The talk was more about his play. We’ve moved beyond that right now.”

Thursday was only Nelson’s fourth NHL appearance since Dec. 4. After missing more than two months with an upper-body injury, he sat for two weeks as a healthy scratch before returning March 4.

Nelson replaced Zach Bogosian, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Housley said Nelson lost some of his aggressiveness prior to being scratched Tuesday.

“Getting a pin, killing a cycle,” Housley said. “I just didn’t see the urgency on some of the puck decisions. I didn’t see him attacking the game, trying to get up ice and make a difference.

“And that’s going to happen. You get an injury like that, you rise up, you got adrenaline flowing, you’re playing good hockey and sometimes you come back down.”

Nelson played beside Marco Scandella on Thursday.

Housley utilized a “kid line” Thursday, putting rookies Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander with Tage Thompson.

The neophytes are all 21 or younger former first-round picks.

“Just bring the energy,” Housley said of what he wanted from the trio. “They’re all very good skaters. Get in on the forecheck, establish the forecheck, get some offensive zone time, create.”

Mittelstadt said he played with Nylander and Thompson a little during the preseason.

“I’ve got to know them pretty well, so it’s always fun to play with your buddies,” Mittelstadt said. “Normally you get chemistry pretty quickly when you’re playing with some good friends.”

Mittelstadt skated at center again versus the Penguins after playing left wing for the first time this season Saturday.

He said he played left wing a little last season at Team USA’s World Junior Championship training camp.

“I’ve never really played too much wing, but it was a good learning experience, for sure,” Mittelstadt said. “I think it’s good to see it from a different perspective.”

Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin recorded his 1,000th point in his 848th game Tuesday, becoming the 88th NHL player to reach the milestone.

Malkin, 32, has dominated the Sabres throughout his 13-year career, compiling 15 goals and 49 points in 38 games entering Thursday.

Notes: Sabres captain Jack Eichel served the final game of his two-game suspension for his illegal check to Colorado forward Carl Soderberg’s head Saturday. … The NHL has announced the annual draft lottery will be held April 9 in Toronto, three weeks earlier than last year. The Sabres, of course, won the 2018 lottery and the right to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall. … The Sabres also scratched winger Zemgus Girgensons (healthy).

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