(WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres' top shot blocker is going to miss quite a bit of time due to a lower-body injury.
Defenseman Robert Hagg left Tuesday night's game against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period and did not return. He is officially listed as month-to-month after returning to Buffalo on Wednesday for further examination.
Sabres head coach Don Granato says there are things about Hagg’s game that will be hard to replace.
“We’re going to miss him. He gives us shot blocking and grit, so there’s areas within his game that we will miss,” he said following Thursday's morning skate.
Because of Hagg’s absence, the Sabres have called up 2016 third round pick Casey Fitzgerald from the Rochester Americans.
Fitzgerald is 24-years-old and has played 72 games with the Amerks after spending four years at Boston College. The right-shot defenseman has yet to play a game at the NHL level. Granato said Fitzgerald has been paired with Mattias Samuelsson in Rochester, and both have performed very well.
“They’ve been great, and I’d image they’d both be up here to play games at some point. But we made a decision to bring Casey up, and that has to do with a lot of different dynamics (right-handed shot)," Granato said. "Casey’s a guy that we watched and had a great training camp, did very well in preseason games. Won’t be in the lineup tonight, but could be inserted tomorrow.”
Colin Miller will take Hagg’s place in the lineup on Thursday in Minnesota against the Wild.
Alex Tuch is now taking full contact in practices. He won’t play against the Wild or Friday night against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, but Granato wouldn’t rule him out for next week’s homestand.
Granato declined to say who would be in goal against Minnesota, but since its back-to-back games, both Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Malcolm Subban will likely see action.
Anders Bjork missed practice on Wednesday and the optional morning skate on Thursday with a non-COVID-19 illness. Granato said he’s a game-time decision. If Bjork doesn’t play, Mark Jankowski will get into the lineup.
With the new variant of COVID-19, it’s taken a huge grip on the National Hockey League. Games are being postponed, as more and more players are testing positive. In most cases, they aren’t feeling symptoms. Currently, the Sabres don’t have anybody in the league protocols, but Granato says there is anxiety inside the room.
“Around the trip to Canada, there was some anxiety because of the way protocols are," the Sabres head coach said. "Teams have had to leave players behind and there’s holidays coming up, so lots of things like that. We’re all normal people, and those are issues that they’re trying to play a competitive sport every night. The reality of life is ever apparent, but the guys do a tremendous job to block it out.”
The Sabres finally won a game on Tuesday, beating the Jets, 4-2. Buffalo never got themselves in trouble down the stretch, and even scored the goal that gave them a two-goal, third period edge.
“It’s re-assuring when you do win games that you’re doing some of the right things, and we hit the targets and got the rewards," Granato said.
The Wild are second in the league this season with an average of 3.68 goals per-game.
Here’s one for you: Former Sabres winger Marcus Foligno has 13 goals this year and is on a 38-goal pace! Foligno's career-high was 13 goals in 80 games during his least season in Buffalo.
Granato knows the Wild have been good at being in places where goals are scored.
“It’s their willingness to go to the net," he said. "They’re very direct, they drive the net, so they turn it into a very physical confrontation at the net-front. We’re going to have to be ready for that.”
Minnesota has lost its last two games, but before that, they won eight in a row. They’ve scored four or more goals in eight out of nine games.
Join Brian Koziol and myself at 7 p.m. EST for pregame coverage on WGR when we’ll hear from Granato.