BUFFALO – Patrick Kaleta’s face was mangled.
“Broke a bunch of things in there,” the oft-injured Sabres winger said Thursday following practice inside the First Niagara Center.
Kaleta said doctors inserted three plates and 14 screws after a shot hit him in the face during a Sept. 28 preseason game in Toronto. The 28-year-old has experienced blurred vision and migraines.
Still, less than three weeks after the scary incident, the Angola native is on the road back to game action. He skated with his teammates for the first time Thursday with a red non-contact jersey and a full face shield. He has no timetable for a return.
“Once I get the green light, I’m ready to go, whether my face is broken or not,” said Kaleta, whose right eye still has blood in it.
He added: “It was a rough spot there for a little bit, but I’m fortunate to be OK and be able to play hockey.”
Kaleta, who had surgery two weeks ago, said “everything else was crushed.”
“My fiancée’s still around, so that’s all that matters,” Kaleta joked.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Kaleta “came out of it as good as you can.”
“We’re just really glad he’s back on the ice,” he said. “He loves to play. He loves to play in Buffalo. He’s a Buffalo kid, so he’s all excited again.”
Kaleta tore his ACL last season and hasn’t played an NHL game since last October.
In other news, the Sabres assigned defensemen Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk to Rochester on Thursday. Both youngsters have recovered from preseason injuries and practiced with the big club before getting sent down.
Pysyk said he injured his shoulder during his first preseason shift.
“Very frustrating, just waiting, watching things in camp,” Pysyk said.
Meanwhile, Nolan said struggling defenseman Andrej Meszaros, a healthy scratch Tuesday, will play tonight against the Florida Panthers.
“He’s going to be back,” he said. “It’s one of those things where certain people just need a little reminder how good they can be. So we never lost faith in his ability.”
In his fourth NHL appearance, top prospect Sam Reinhart skated only six minutes, 39 seconds on the fourth line between Nick Deslauriers and Cody McCormick in the Sabres’ 4-3 shootout win against Carolina on Tuesday.
Why did Nolan slash the 18-year-old’s minutes?
For three regular-season games and the entire preseason, Nolan threw Reinhart “right into the fire” to see how he would react. So the slick center, the No. 2 pick in June, played about 11-15 minutes on a scoring line.
Now, the Sabres are “taking a different approach, cutting back on the minutes, letting him watch game action more so than throwing him right into the fire,” Nolan said.
“I thought last game he was almost chomping on the bit to get out there more versus playing more and the game being a little bit too fast,” Nolan said. “One thing about Sam, his hockey intelligence and his brain for the game is NHL-caliber. We just got to get everything else matched up to it.”
Reinhart has zero points, two shots and a minus-1 rating this season. The Sabres can play him five more games before his contract kicks in.
If Reinhart faces Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad tonight, it will be the earliest meeting of the No. 1 and 2 draft picks since 1997, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Why are the Sabres keeping 19-year-old defenseman Nikita Zadorov, the No. 16 pick in 2013, if he’s not playing?
“I can’t answer that question straight up, but we’re trying to do the best with the situation, keep working at him, get his conditioning a little better,” Nolan said. “He’s another promising young prospect that we have to make sure we do the best for. So right now, we’re working him as hard as we can in practice, make him a little angry, make him want to play us now.”
Rip Simonick, the Sabres’ equipment manager all 44 seasons, was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday.
What does Nolan think of when he hears Simonick’s name?
“I think of Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, the French Connection,” he said. “I think of the Aud, and Rip Simonick is right in that group. You think of hockey in Buffalo, you think of Rip Simonick. I think it’s a great honor. Some of those people you meet in hockey, the legends of the game, sometimes they’re just not on the ice.”
Nolan on comparing the Sabres to a peewee team following Monday’s embarrassing 5-1 loss to Anaheim: “Sometimes when you say words they take it literally. We didn’t play very well last game. You could make a comparison it’s just your like child when they say, ‘I hate you, dad.’ They don’t really hate you. The next minute they say, ‘I love you.’”