Of the many variables included in this year's Buffalo Sabres equation, few were bigger than the unknown quantity in net. The Sabres paid a big price to the Ottawa Senators because Tim Murray and company thought they had found their goalie of the future in Robin Lehner, who promptly was injured in the very first game of the season.
And now, almost three moths later, Lehner is finally back to practice after suffering a setback in rehabbing his severely sprained ankle. Practicing for the first time yesterday, Lehner said, "I can pretty much do whatever, but I still have a little issue around my right post. It's getting better every day, but it feels pretty good."
In order to solve that little problem, the Sabres are planning on sending Lehner to Rochester for a conditioning stint (love it) with the Amerks. Lehner commeneted after practice about how the speed of the game surprised him coming off of such an extended absence, so a few games in Rochester will certainly help him to get back into game shape.
Another big piece of the Sabres puzzle this season was to be the play of their young defensemen. Rasmus Ristolainen is having a breakout, star defenseman-type season, while Jake McCabe is making a solid debut, but after a promising start, the Sabres have been without Mark Pysyk for half of their young season.
Pysyk only managed to tally one point in the 18 games he's played, but has made much more of an impact off of the scoresheet. He is the second-best defenseman on the team in Corsi % (behind...Mike Weber?!) and the smoothness he shows in his skating, passing, and positioning is something the Sabres are sorely missing on their current bottom pairing.
Luckily, 2016 should be a new year for Pysyk as he is scheduled to return to practice after the New Year's Eve game, according to Bylsma. Pysyk has been skating hard and doing drills on his own, and after returning to practice should be able to step in for Mike Weber or Carlo Colaiacovo in the near future.
The Sabres should be back at full strength in a few weeks, and then we'll see what the second half of the season will hold for this young team.