The Buffalo Sabres have started the season with a win, an upgrade from last season’s opening night. However, even though the 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens was a lot of fun, the night had a bittersweet ending.
Per head coach Don Granato, both Casey Mittelstadt and Henri Jokiharju will be out for at least a couple of weeks.
Mittelstadt (upper body)
Jokiharju (lower body)
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 15, 2021
Henri Jokiharju Injury Puts Buffalo Sabres In Tough Spot
Casey Mittelstadt, their top-line centre, left the game with an upper-body injury. Now head coach Don Granato announced defenceman Henri Jokiharju is out with a lower-body injury. Both players will miss a few weeks while treating their injuries. It could be worse, but losing two of their top players will surely hurt the Sabres as they continue the season.
Now, there are a few things Buffalo needs to do with both Mittelstadt and Jokiharju out. First, they need to figure out who is going to be their new top centre. Second, they need a miracle to replace Jokiharju, as they don’t have many left-handed defencemen in their organization. And yes, that does include their players down with the Rochester Americans.
The first problem is not as bad. During the game on Thursday, Granato played Zemgus Girgensons as centre and then moved Dylan Cozens up to play between Jeff Skinner and Vinnie Hinostroza. Buffalo can call Arttu Ruotsalainen up from Rochester, so they can continue playing Tage Thompson at centre. As their lineup is still being shaped, moving a few players will not be a huge problem. In their first game, Granato was already mixing lines even before the Mittelstadt injury. But one thing that has not changed since the new coach took over last season was the Rasmus Dahlin-Jokiharju pairing. That’s where the real problem is.
Who Will Replace Jokiharju
The Sabres have had a problem in the right side of the blue line for a while. That was the reason some people thought they’d draft Matthew Beniers instead of Owen Power with the first pick in the past draft. They don’t really need more left-handed defencemen. Now, this problem has come back to haunt them and Granato has little to no options with Dahlin’s partner hurt. The only other two right-handed defencemen they have on the NHL roster at the moment are Colin Miller and Mark Pysyk.
Go To The Young Guys
Miller will probably be the one paired with Dahlin, as the veteran has more experience playing with the star defenceman than the newcomer Pysyk. However, that means either Jacob Bryson or Robert Hagg will have to play their odd side to fill the void. Or Buffalo could call someone up from the AHL.
Oskari Laaksonen, Casey Fitzgerald and Ethan Prow are natural rights that could step up at any time. If one had to guess, Fitzgerald is probably Granato’s go-to, as he’s been with the organization for longer than the others. However, it could be a good moment to give the latter a chance to showcase his abilities for a few games. It’s only the start of the season, if there’s a time to try new things, that is now.
Whatever coach Granato decides to go with will be a blind bet, just like everything else for Buffalo. That, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With a team full of young players, trying new things to see how it will work will be good for them as a developing team. Granato is already doing much better than the past coaches. Now is the time to show everyone they can have fun and also be a decent hockey team.