Sabres’ Mattias Samuelsson out for remainder of season with upper-body injury: How Buffalo adjusts its blue line

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres came back from the All-Star break and learned Sunday they will be without one of their top defensemen for the remainder of the season. Mattias Samuelsson, who hasn’t played since the Sabres’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 23, is out for the season with an upper-body injury that will require surgery.

Samuelsson dealt with nagging injuries all season, but this was a new one that happened during that game against the Ducks.

Injuries have been a recurring issue for Buffalo this season. In the final game before the break, Jack Quinn went down with a lower-body injury that required surgery. He will miss six to eight weeks. The Sabres previously had Tage Thompson out of the lineup for three weeks and had to play without Alex Tuch and Jeff Skinner for stretches of time.

To this point, Buffalo hasn’t shown its has the depth to withstand its unfortunate luck.

With Samuelsson out for the rest of the season, the Sabres have now lost two of their top young players for an extended period. And it comes at a point in the season when Buffalo is already 10 points out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres were 9-15-3 in games without Samuelsson last season, a number coach Don Granato referenced Sunday when talking about the injury. But Granato is confident this team is better equipped to handle Samuelsson’s absence. Buffalo added veterans Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton in the offseason.

Rookie Ryan Johnson has emerged as a reliable player on the Sabres’ blue line. The depth is stronger, but that doesn’t make the timing of the injury any easier.

“It’s unfortunate when you lose guys like that,” Granato said. “You look at it and you say, ‘Are the other guys ready to seize the opportunity?’ Because there’s new opportunity. I feel we have guys in a better position to do that.”

Henri Jokiharju skated on a pair with Rasmus Dahlin in practice Sunday. Jokiharju and Dahlin have plenty of experience playing together, including 95 minutes of five-on-five ice time this season. In those 95 minutes, Buffalo has 61 percent of the expected goals, 61 percent of the scoring chances and 53 percent of the high-danger chances.

That pair should be fine, but Samuelsson’s injury will test the Sabres’ depth.

Jacob Bryson, who has been a healthy scratch for most of the season and spent time in the AHL, was skating on the second pair with Owen Power. But Erik is expected to be cleared by Monday, and he and Ryan should be counted on for more minutes. For now, Buffalo doesn’t need to call up another defenseman from Rochester because it already has seven on the roster.

What might be more challenging is preparing for life without Quinn. He had helped boost the production of Dylan Cozens and JJ Peterka on the Sabres’ second line. Without Quinn, Buffalo had rookie forward Zach Benson skating on that line at practice Sunday. It’s another opportunity for Benson to show what he can do at the top of the lineup.

Benson previously skated on the team’s top line, and Granato has described the 18-year-old as a “stabilizing” presence on every line he’s skated on.

The Sabres don’t yet need to call up another forward from the AHL because Zemgus Girgensons is nearing a return from injury and will give the team 13 forwards on the roster once he’s healthy.

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(Photo: Marc DesRosiers / USA Today)

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