Two weeks ago, Cory Conacher and Chad Ruhwedel looked at the Buffalo Sabres dressing room and marveled at all the injuries.
Guys are dropping like flies, they said.
Now it’s gotten worse.
There are now 13 - count them, 13 - injured players on the roster, including Ruhwedel, who will likely miss the rest of the season with a concussion.
Yet the circumstances bring some opportunity for a Sabres team with four games left and a roster full of players vying for National Hockey League jobs next season. The job application process continues tonight when the Sabres host the Detroit Red Wings in First Niagara Center.
They will do so without Ruhwedel and goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, who each suffered concussions in Sunday’s loss at Philadelphia. Christian Ehrhoff, who suffered a sliced ear after being hit with a puck, will be a game-time decision.
“We talked about that. Is it bad luck? I’m not too sure. I don’t believe in luck,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “But that’s just one of those things - that’s two concussions in one game last night. The injury before, Ehrhoff takes a puck to the ear. I mean, how many chances does a puck have to hit the ear? It’s just one of those things. ... But we’ve got four games to go. Hopefully we can get through this unscathed and get a couple guys back.”
There is some good news. Marcus Foligno will be back in the lineup after missing just one game. Chris Stewart, who missed 15 games, and Torrey Mitchell, who has missed five games, also could return to duty tonight.
Foligno’s return is fantastic news for the Sabres who originally thought the forward would be lost for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“Feels really good. … It was more of a bone bruise,” Foligno said. “I think I just jammed it up pretty good. It was a scary incident there. In that kind of moment you want to take caution and make sure the knee is good. I’m ready to get back on the ice.”
Foligno said he iced his knee, worked with the trainers and concentrated on getting full range of motion in his knee before returning to the ice. The physical part of the rehabilitation is obvious, but mentally it’s been a test for the players as the training room becomes the most popular meeting place these days.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough. I think you’ve just got to keep grinding through it,” Foligno said. “It’s tough on everyone. … It’s been pretty crazy around here. Hectic for everyone. The training room around here has been pretty much full every day so the trainers have their hands full.
“As a player who’s healthy now you just want to keep going, look forward and you know you’ve got to make a good impression. It’s the last of the season. You want to do whatever you can for next year.”
Therein lies the opportunity.
If there is any bright spot to being dead last in the NHL with an injury list nearly as long as your roster, it’s that players have a chance to step up and take on leadership roles. In particular, Nolan is looking for leadership qualities from Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Zemgus Girgensons.
“There’s a silver lining to everything. … There’s no big brother coming in to help them out. You’re on your own,” Nolan said. “Tough situations reveal tough characters. We’ll see who steps up. That’s what it’s going to reveal. Who is going to step up and take that leadership going forward? Is it going to be an Ennis? Is it going to be Hodgson? Is it going to be Girgensons? Those types of players are going to start revealing themselves. It’s going to be a good indicator of who will lead this team down the road.”