Sabres' Kulikov nearing return to injury-plagued blue line

Posted at 2:57 PM, Jan 23, 2017

Injuries have been an obstacle for the Buffalo Sabres all season, but on Monday they finally got some good news. Dmitry Kulikov, who hasn't played in a game since December 27, returned to practice and could find the lineup sometime this week.

Kulikov's effectiveness will be the major question when he finally returns -- in 20 games this season the first year Sabre has only one assist and a -10 plus/minus rating. Kulikov has battled injuries almost all season, so it will be interesting to see how the 26-year-old defensemen performances this time around.

In his absence several Sabres defenders have been called upon -- and on Saturday they played arguably their best game as a unit, combining for two of Buffalo's three goals in a 3-2 overtime win against Montreal.

"It was a good job by our whole d-core," defensemen Cody Franson, one of Buffalo's goal scorers said Monday morning.

"I thought it was Franson's best game of the year with how he did play," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was playing the right side with Bogosian but I thought it was Franson's best game."

On Monday Franson and Bogosian practice together yet again. The other pairings during the morning skate were:

Dmitry Kulikov -- Taylor Fedun 
Rasmus Ristolainen -- Justin Falk
Nicolas Deslauriers -- Casey Nelson

All the injuries have caused a lot of mixing and matching with the pairings, something Bylsma has never experienced.

"(It's) kind of an odd situation, one I've never seen having five righties out there... I thought a lot of guys stepped up."

Kulikov is a left handed shot, so his return will help balanced the pairings -- but if Zach Bogosian is asked to play on his off-side he'll make it work.

"Offensive zone it's pretty fun but in the neutral zone it can be a little tricky trying to find open guys," Bogosian said. "It's a lot of fun to be able to play the left side and get more minutes and play that way if that's the way it's going to be I'm happy with that."

Like Franson, Bogosian is coming off a very strong performance against Montreal. Bogosian scored his first goal of the season and logged more than 25 minutes of ice-time.

"Everybody I played with, mainly Bogo, but everybody I played with was great in that game," Franson added.

Once Kulikov is ready to go I'd imagine that Casey Nelson is sent back to Rochester. The Sabres are also still waiting on the return of Josh Gorges, who has yet to return to a full practice. Kulikov's status for Tuesday against Nashville is still uncertain, but Dan Bylsma said him making the trip is a positive sign. 

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