BUFFALO – The 70- or so mile drive from Rochester to KeyBank Center sure beats trying to get from Stockton, Calif., to Calgary. Just ask Sabres winger Curtis Lazar.
When the Flames would recall Lazar, 24, from the Heat, their AHL affiliate about 1,300 miles away, he would have to fly out of the San Francisco airport.
Stockton is about 83 miles from that airport.
Lazar enjoyed a much easier trip to Buffalo on Tuesday night.
“You hop in a car last night, you’re here an hour later, and it’s back to work,” Lazar said following Wednesday’s practice.
When the 6-foot, 211-pound Lazar started looking for teams as a free agent in the summer, he wanted to find one with a farm club nearby.
“That (was) a big factor for myself throughout the summer and trying to decide where I wanted to go and stuff,” said Lazar, who signed a one-way contract worth $700,000 on July 1. “Rochester’s right down the road, and some days I did see myself back here in Buffalo just to check things out and hang out. So it is nice.”
Lazar, who has played 246 NHL games, will likely make his Sabres debut tonight at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. They scratched the former first-round pick a few times after summoning him for insurance last month.
The Sabres need Lazar because a lower-body injury will sideline winger Vladimir Sobotka four to six weeks. Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov hit Sobotka low and late in Saturday’s 5-3 loss in Stockholm, Sweden.
Why did the Sabres recall Lazar over winger Tage Thompson, who has scored six goals and 12 points in the Amerks’ first 13 games?
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger tries to put a defensive presence on each line. Lazar, who practiced at right wing beside center Casey Mittelstadt and Jimmy Vesey, can fill some of Sobotka’s role.
“If you look at Sobotka going out and the role that he had until now on the team and the stabilizing factor and the experience that he brings, we felt that that was more important,” Krueger said. “We really liked Curtis in training camp, the way he executed and the kind of role he seems to be able to give us. We’d like to test him in that situation.”
After staying until the end of training camp, Lazar scored four goals and nine points in his first 11 outings with the Amerks.
“I know the type of player that I am and I think that (I) should be,” he said. “I was just waiting for an opportunity like this, waiting for my name to be called. I tried to keep tabs on these guys and what they’re doing on the ice so when I do get a chance to play, then I can just pick up where I left off.”
Krueger said: “We feel that he carried what we asked from him in training camp into Rochester.”
Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella (lower body, six games) practiced Wednesday and could return tonight, Krueger said.
Scandella skated beside Henri Jokiharju, pushing Colin Miller beside John Gilmour. That could mean Miller is the odd man out tonight.
Meanwhile, Krueger said center Marcus Johansson, who missed Wednesday’s session with a lower-body injury, will be evaluated this morning.
“We don’t expect it to be long-term,” he said. “It’s really just something we’re being careful about.”
With Johansson out, Evan Rodrigues centered Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary.
Thanks to their two-game trip to Sweden – the Sabres played just twice over a 12-day stretch – they have a loaded schedule coming up.
Tonight’s game is the first of five in eight days. They play 10 times in a 17-day stretch.
“We have the 21 games ‘til Christmas and we’re breaking it up into little groups,” Krueger said. “We’ve got the five-game (stretch), two-day pause, six-game, two-day pause, six-game, two-day pause, four-game, and I think if you break it down into smaller sections in your mind and you deal with those as you go through it.”
Krueger said the Sabres had Monday and Tuesday off because it’s mandated after European trips.