It was the final straw for Bruce Boudreau's Washington Capitals, a 5-1 loss on Nov. 26 at the Buffalo Sabres, who were missing nine regulars. The Sabres were more or less their minor-league affiliate, the Rochester Americans.
Not anymore. The Caps saw a little bit of it earlier in the week and will again Friday night, as the Sabres are getting healthier as the month wears on. They got forwards Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht back Monday and are no longer the skating wounded.
"It gives you a little bit of confidence, seeing guys that have been around, that have been successful in this league and have been a big part of this team for a while now getting back in the lineup." Buffalo captain Jason Pominville said. "Hopefully they can give us an extra spark and help our team out because we've got to get on a roll."
The Sabres are a point behind the Caps going into Friday night at Verizon Center, and both teams are out of a playoff spot. At Christmas 2010, only one team out of the top eight in its conference made the playoffs.
Fortunately for the Sabres, it was them.
But they understand that getting healthy is essential. They've been without defenseman Tyler Myers (wrist) since Nov. 23, forward Nathan Gerbe (upper body) since Dec. 9 and forward Ville Leino (lower body) since Dec. 16. Leino will be out for an extended period of time, too, a major loss after he signed a six-year, $27 million deal in the offseason.
Hecht (foot) and Boyes (high-ankle sprain) returning is a big deal.
"Obviously, up front we've been a little bit thin," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Definitely, it's going to help. There's no doubt. Jochen back in the middle should help us against other teams' top lines. Brad was going pretty good when he got hurt; I thought he was good on the power play. It should give us a couple stronger lines."
With the rash of injuries, the Sabres have leaned heavily on a few guys, like Pominville (38 points in 36 games) and forward Tomas Vanek (38 points).
"You want to do well, and you want to produce every single game, regardless if you have no injuries or if you have 10," said forward Luke Adam, who has 20 points. "Obviously you might put a little more pressure on yourself to be a bit better when guys are out and that extra scoring's needed. But you want to produce every game, so you try not to think too much about it."
With so many players out, it can create significant pressure on the healthy guys to create offense. Ruff singled out forward Drew Stafford as one of them.
"I don't think there's any doubt that we've got some guys that have been pressing. I think Staff has been pretty frustrated with the lack of his own production," Ruff said. "When the puck hasn't gone in the net, I think you've seen a little bit some of his reaction has been frustration."
It has been a few months of frustration for the Sabres, who haven't been able to live up to expectations set after a big-money offseason. Players admitted the injuries have made it rough, but they're now hoping it's turning around.
"We're going to need to stay healthy and slowly get our guys back," Pominville said. "Kind of the same situation we were in last year. I think we battled back because we simplified our game, we worked hard and we were a good team defensively. If we can do that, I have a lot of confidence in the group we have here."
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