Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Alex Tuch’s last game before getting injured was back on Feb. 24 in Florida against the Panthers. Tuch scored in that game, giving him four goals and three assists for seven points in five games.
Tuch returned to practice on Sunday and had no restrictions. After the skate, he didn’t want to talk about the injury or any timelines.
Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato said his winger had been on the ice for a couple of days, and had done well in each session as they got harder. It’s also sounding promising that Tuch could return Monday in Toronto against the Leafs.
“I’ll have a conversation with him now, but the signs are really good," said Granato on Sunday after practice. "We’ll see what that means in relation to tomorrow, but it’s looking like it’s going to be fairly soon, if not tomorrow.”
The Sabres have dearly missed Tuch, who was on a 40-goal pace before the injury.
In his eight-game absence, the Sabres are 2-5-1. They averaged 3.13 goals per-game and were second-worst in the league defensively, allowing 4.63 goals per-game. If you take out the seven goals the Sabres scored against the Washington Capitals back on Feb. 26, they scored 18 goals (2.57 per-game) in seven games.
Of course, Granato knows what Tuch means to this team.
“He is a very big influence, and he’s grown into that," Granato said. "The last 30 games he’s had have probably been some of the best 30 of his career, and by virtue of elevating, he’s elevated us.”
In his last 29 games, Tuch had 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points. If you take it a little further back than Granato did, Tuch had 18 goals and 22 assists for 40 points in 34 games.
You also can’t ignore the playoff experience Tuch brings from his time with the Vegas Golden Knights. He played 66 playoff games for Vegas in four years.
During Sunday's practice, Tuch was back on the wing with Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner. In the eight games Tuch was gone, Thompson only scored three goals, while Skinner had five. Tuch was all smiles both on and off the ice during Sunday's skate.
“It’s really tough not being around the guys, so I just tried to work hard to get back to be on the ice with them again," said Tuch following Sunday's practice. "It was all smiles the first time I stepped out there again.”
With the team struggling, picking up just three of a possible 14 points, it made watching even harder for the winger.
“It’s been hard, it has," he said. "It’s been hard to see the guys playing without me, so hopefully I’ll be able to step back in whenever that is in full stride.
“I want to be back. I want to be back as soon as possible, and I want to help my team win. I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that’s a possibility each and every day. I take great pride in being able to come back as quickly as possible.”
Another player that couldn’t help but smile when I asked about Tuch returning to practice was Casey Mittelstadt.
“He’s a big part of our team, and he’s a heck of a player," said Mittelstadt on Sunday. "I still am not sure if he gets enough credit, just what he does in both ends. I think he’s one of the better two-way forwards in the league, and it’s definitely huge to have him back.”
The Sabres got the great news about Tuch, but then added three injured players to the mix.
Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson both have upper-body injuries. Dahlin is day-to-day, while Samuelsson is week-to-week. Both players were able to finish Saturday's loss to the New York Rangers.
Meanwhile, Eric Comrie was hurt in practice on Friday and is now week-to-week.
Granato says he doesn’t expect either Comrie or Samuelsson to be out for the rest of the season.
As for Kyle Okposo, he missed Sunday's practice for a maintenance day. That ended up leaving the lines juggled throughout practice.
Monday’s game in Toronto will be the final game this season against the Maple Leafs. Join Schopp and the Bulldog for pregame coverage on WGR starting at 6:30 p.m. ET when they’ll be joined by Granato, Tuch and Mittelstadt.