C.J. Smith could be utilized against the New York Islanders. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres will likely field lineup with C.J. Smith, other taxi-squad players

BUFFALO – Having seven players on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol-related absences list means the Sabres must utilize their taxi squad to dress a full lineup tonight.

So defensemen Will Borgen and Brandon Davidson and wingers Steven Fogarty and C.J. Smith could all be thrust into action against the New York Islanders at KeyBank Center.

Borgen and Davidson have spent the entire season on the taxi squad. They haven’t played a game at any level since March 11. The Sabres recalled Fogarty and Smith from the Rochester Americans on Saturday.

Coach Ralph Krueger said the forward lines and defense pairs the Sabres showcased during Sunday’s practice “will be definitely close to what you see” tonight.

“I would still expect some potential one or two changes with that,” Krueger said on a Zoom call following practice.

Does that mean a player or two could be removed from the absences list? Stay tuned. Whatever the case, at least two Sabres will likely be making their season debuts.

“Everyone’s got a role to play, a role to fill,” Sabres winger Sam Reinhart said. “So I think there’s a lot of bodies that have the opportunity to show what they can bring. We’ve all really appreciated and liked what we’ve seen from the taxi squad and also the guys going up and down all year.

“From my standpoint, (there’s) some excitement to see what they can bring as well.”

Borgen and Davidson practiced as the Sabres’ third defense pair Sunday. Smith skated at left wing beside center Cody Eakin and Kyle Okposo on the fourth line. Fogarty, the Amerks’ captain, skated at right wing with center Riley Sheahan and Tage Thompson.

After a 15-day gap between games, the Sabres play four times in the next six days. Right now, they have to play 46 games – two must be rescheduled – over an 82-day stretch to close the season.

“You might’ve watched your last practice until May,” Krueger joked. “I mean, we need to really, really feel the group. … Our brainstorming moving forward is to manage the energy.”

That means the Sabres could use taxi-squad players as fresh reinforcements when they have a healthy lineup.

Krueger knows he can’t run his best players ragged.

“We need to especially monitor the high-minute guys,” he said. “We need to do only one thing, and that’s what’s best for the team the team to win hockey games. If it means staying off the ice between games days, if it means almost avoiding ice completely other than games for certain stretches, that could happen.

“Sports science has never quite as an important role as right now as we can monitor any piece of information we can get on the guys and then work with them accordingly between the game.”

Teams coming off even a short breaks usually have trouble handling opponents that have been playing regularly.

The Islanders have played four time as the Sabres sat idle, winning three times. They execute a rigid system under coach Barry Trotz.

“We’re playing a team as dedicated to the way it plays in the Islanders in our division,” Krueger said. “They are definitely finding their A game at the moment.”

Notes: Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who was removed from the absences list Sunday, practiced with Colin Miller. … Jeff Skinner spent the weekend skating at left wing beside top center Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson. … Prospect Jacob Bryson was the Sabres’ extra defenseman Sunday.

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