MONTREAL – The season of frustration continues for Drew Stafford tonight, as he will be a healthy scratch when the Sabres face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Stafford has just four goals and 11 points in 31 games, and says he understands the decision made by interim head coach Ron Rolston to have him watch from the press box.
“I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but it’s definitely disappointing,” said Stafford following the morning skate. “It’s his decision, and something I have to respect. I have to work my way back to get in the lineup. It’s no secret I haven’t been getting on the scoresheet, but other than that it’s pretty simple.”
Rolston said there wasn’t any kind of message attached to Stafford’s benching.
“It’s just a coach’s decision,” explained Rolston. “We want everyone to play, and to play hard. We’ve got a lot of guys; we’ve got some tough decisions right now. It was just a decision.”
Thomas Vanek skated again today, and will return to the lineup after missing Thursday’s game with a hip injury. Nathan Gerbe will also be back after being a healthy scratch against Toronto. Andrej Sekera remains out with an upper body injury, and John Scott will join Stafford as Buffalo’s other healthy scratch.
Ryan Miller gets the start in goal for the Sabres. In his career, Miller is 24-9-6 against Montreal, with a 2.30 GAA, .922 save% and three shutouts.
The Buffalo Sabres will be without their leading scorer tonight when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center (7 p.m.).
Thomas Vanek will miss the game with a lower body injury, after absorbing a slapshot from teammate Christian Ehrhoff on the hip during the second period of Tuesday’s win in Montreal. The NHL’s 10th-leading scorer left the game shortly afterwards but never returned.
Vanek hasn’t skated since Tuesday’s game, and interim head coach Ron Rolston said they’re hoping to get him back on the ice Friday. Rolston said Vanek remains a possibility for Saturday’s return match in Montreal.
Look for Drew Stafford to draw into Vanek’s spot on the second line with Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino, and John Scott will be inserted into the lineup on the fourth line with Jochen Hecht and Patrick Kaleta.
Andrej Sekera took part in today’s morning skate, but will join Vanek on the sidelines tonight, missing his third straight game with an upper body injury. Nathan Gerbe is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second game in a row.
Ryan Miller will be in search of his first win in almost three weeks tonight, while looking to add to his career-best numbers against the Maple Leafs. Miller is 28-15-1 all-time against Toronto, with a 2.45 GAA and .921 save percentage. The 28 wins and four shutouts Miller has posted against Toronto are his most versus any opponent.
MONTREAL – After hinting at it recently, interim head coach Ron Rolston has finally shuffled the deck on his forward lines, as the Sabres get set to face the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre.
The top line of Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville has been together since game one this season, but that won’t be the case tonight. Vanek has been dropped to the second line alongside Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino. The left wing spot on the top line will now be occupied by Steve Ott.
Patrick Kaleta returns to the lineup after being a much-publicized healthy scratch on Sunday in Washington, following the conclusion of his five-game suspension. Kaleta will man the right side of the fourth line with Jochen Hecht and Drew Stafford.
Coming off his 3-1 win over the Rangers at home last Tuesday, Jhonas Enroth gets the start in goal, as the Sabres prepare for a run of five games over the next 10 days. He's 2-0 in his career against the Habs with 2.42 GAA/.917 save% - with all that action coming at the Bell Centre.
WASHINGTON – Green may be the color of choice on St. Patrick’s Day, but Patrick Kaleta was definitely seeing red following today’s morning skate at the Verizon Center.
With Kaleta’s five-game suspension now over and having him eligible to return tonight, the rugged winger was expected to be back in the lineup when the Sabres face the Washington Capitals. But interim head coach Ron Rolston has decided to make Kaleta a healthy scratch, and will go with the same four forward lines that played together in Saturday’s 4-3 OT loss to Ottawa.
A visibly-frustrated Kaleta expressed his displeasure after getting some extra work in with the assistant coaches following the skate.
“I’m pissed off. I want to play. Especially after watching some things. Sitting there watching the game, I want to play.”
Kaleta wouldn’t elaborate on the reasons given to him by Rolston for being a healthy scratch.
“That’s between me and the coach. I have to listen to what he wants. Obviously I’m going to be pissed off for today; not be too pleasant. I’ll think about it, let it bother me for a little bit, and I’ll move on and prepare myself, because hopefully the team will want me back here in the next couple of games.”
Rolston said it was simply a matter of not wanting to tinker with four lines that he really likes right now.
“Up front we like our depth right now and there’s going to be some tough decisions,” explained Rolston. “Right now (Kaleta) is just going to have to work hard and see how it goes. As far as some of the line combinations right now, we kind of like the chemistry the guys are getting so we don’t really want to mess around a lot with that.”
Defenseman Andrej Sekera was injured during Saturday’s loss, and will not play tonight. Rolston said he is day-to-day, and wasn’t sure if he’d be available for Tuesday’s game in Montreal.
Needing another body on the blueline, the Sabres have recalled 2010 first-round pick Mark Pysyk from Rochester, and he’ll make his NHL debut tonight. Pysyk arrived in Washington this morning after playing back-to-back games with the Amerks – including Saturday in Toronto.
In 57 games with Rochester, the 21-year-old Pysyk has recorded 18 points (4+14) and 20 penalty minutes in his first AHL season, and is tied with Kevin Porter to lead all Amerks skaters with a plus-8 rating.
NEWARK, NJ – It’s been over a month since Jhonas Enroth last saw action, but he’ll be between the pipes tonight when the Buffalo Sabres (9-13-2) take on the New Jersey Devils (10-8-5) at the Prudential Center. These same two teams met last Saturday in Buffalo, with the Sabres claiming a 4-3 shootout win.
Enroth has only played in three games this season, with his last start coming on February 5 in Ottawa – a 4-3 loss to the Senators. The 24-year-old Enroth is 0-2-0 with a 4.73 goals against average and .847 save percentage this year.
Interim head coach Ron Rolston knows how important it is to get Enroth some playing time in this truncated season, especially after watching Ryan Miller play Buffalo’s last 14 games. He also knows how crucial it is for the Sabres to perform well in front of Enroth to help the young netminder gain some confidence, especially since he hasn’t posted a win since November 26, 2011 against Washington.
“Most importantly for us, we want to play well in front of Jhonas. All along since I’ve been here, our job is to make the goaltender’s game easier than it has been. Whether it’s Ryan or Jhonas, we want to do a good job in front of him, and be consistent, keep working on our game.
“That makes it easier on your goaltender; an easier night when you see more pucks. Not as many backdoor chances; just kind of clean things up that way. We would certainly like Jhonas to have success, that’s our game plan. But we want to make sure that we’re really solid in front of him.”
John Scott skated on a line with Mikhail Grigorenko and Drew Stafford during today’s skate, and appears to have sent Jochen Hecht to the press box as a healthy scratch. Rolston wouldn't confirm the move, but Hecht was part of a group of five players getting extra work after practice, joining: injured players Jordan Leopold and Ville Leino; suspended forward Patrick Kaleta, and defenseman Adam Pardy.
TJ Brennan will remain in the lineup on defense for the second consecutive game, and was paired with Mike Weber today. The other two defensive pairings were: Tyler Myers – Christian Ehrhoff; Andrej Sekera – Robyn Regehr.
The Sabres come into tonight’s game with a record of 3-1-1 in their last five games, while the Devils are 0-4-1. New Jersey is just 4-5-3 at home this season, and haven’t won a game at the Prudential Center since February 15 against Philadelphia.
Johan Hedberg is expected to get the start in goal for the Devils. In 20 career games against the Sabres, Hedberg is 12-3-4 with 2.83 GAA and .909 save% - along with one shutout.
RALEIGH, NC – The Buffalo Sabres lineup will get a boost tonight as leading scorer Thomas Vanek returns after missing the past two games with an upper body injury suffered last Thursday in Florida.
Vanek confirmed after today’s morning skate at PNC Arena that he’ll be available in all situations when the Sabres take on the Carolina Hurricanes for the third time this season.
“I’ll be a full go, as long as he plays me,” joked Vanek.
Vanek’s return will coincide with the addition of defenseman TJ Brennan, as interim head coach Ron Rolston looks for ways to jump start a power play that is currently sputtering at a league-low 10.7 percent (9/84) through 23 games, including just two goals in 40 opportunities (5%) on the road.
Rolston knows what he’s getting from Brennan, after coaching him for the past two seasons in Rochester. But despite scoring 35 points (14+21) in 34 games with the Amerks before his recall, that success hasn’t translated at the NHL level for Brennan. He’s yet to collect a point in seven games with the Sabres this season.
“Most importantly we want to make sure that his five-on-five game is good, and he’s playing good strong defense,” said Rolston. “From there he has an opportunity on our power play to use his gift of offense and his shot. He’ll get that down. He’s a big shooter and he’ll put pucks on net and that’s why he’s out there.”
At today’s skate, Brennan was playing the point on the number one power play unit along with Jason Pominville. The forwards were Vanek, Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott. Buffalo’s second power play group consisted of forwards Nathan Gerbe, Cody Hodgson and Drew Stafford, with defensemen Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff.
Ryan Miller will make his 14th straight start for Buffalo tonight. He currently leads all NHL netminders in saves (637), shots faced (695) and minutes played (1,254), and is tied for first in games played (21) with Ilya Bryzgalov and Pekka Rinne.
SUNRISE, FLA. – If the Buffalo Sabres hope to win consecutive road games for the first time since last March, their offense will need to get on track tonight against the Florida Panthers. (7:30 p.m., MSG)
The Sabres are 2-6-0 in their last eight games, and have scored just 12 goals – an average of just 1.5 per game. As good as Ryan Miller has been this season, you won’t win too many games averaging less than two goals a night.
Thomas Vanek (0+2) and Cody Hodgson (1+1) combined for four points in Tuesday’s 2-1 win in Tampa, but interim head coach Ron Rolston is well aware of the need for production from his team’s other three lines.
“Right now we’re looking for that secondary scoring. For a lot of teams that are that struggling, that’s been one of the issues,” Rolston said following today’s morning skate at the BB&T Center. “Obviously our first line and the power play have to be good because of that. Secondary scoring for us right now, we’re still trying to find the right chemistry and combinations to get that going.
“We’ve gotta be better offensively. We’re in a situation now where we are getting more puck possession, or at least quicker. And we’ve had some situations where we’re getting man advantages where we’re not executing the way we need to be offensively. We have to find more ways to create offense; we can’t afford to just be a rush team, and just rely on our power play, especially when we’re getting just one a game. We have to have more bullets to our gun, and right now we’re working on that.”
Jordan Leopold took part in today's morning skate, but Rolston said he’s still not fully recovered from an upper body injury that has kept him out of the past three games… Rolston also said they are still waiting for final test results on Alexander Sulzer before he can give a timetable for his return. Sulzer suffered an undisclosed lower body injury against the Islanders last Saturday, but a significant amount of swelling in the area of the injury has prevented proper evaluation.
TAMPA – Ryan Miller will get the start in goal tonight against the Lightning as the Buffalo Sabres look to snap a four-game losing streak that has dropped them to 29th overall in the NHL standings. Miller is 18-7-0 in his career against Tampa Bay, with a 2.75 GAA and .905 save%.
Interim head coach Ron Rolston said there won’t be any lineup changes tonight, which means that forward John Scott and defenseman TJ Brennan are expected to be healthy scratches. Defenseman Jordan Leopold did not take part in today’s morning skate, and Rolston says he is still day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Adam Pardy will be in the lineup after being recalled from Rochester on Monday to replace the injured Alexander Sulzer. In one previous recall this season, Pardy had an assist and two penalty minutes against Ottawa on February 5.
This is the first of three meetings this season between the Sabres and Lightning, and the first of two here in Tampa. The Sabres are 5-5-0 in their last 10 against the Lightning; 7-3-0 on the road.
In their last trip to Tampa on March 19, 2012, the Sabres walked all over the Lightning by a 7-3 count. Marcus Foligno and Jason Pominville both scored twice that night, and Drew Stafford had one goal and two assists.
TORONTO -- When Buffalo Sabres interim head coach Ron Rolston met with his new team for the first time last night, he said the message was simple and to the point.
“We were pretty brief. We understand at this point that the talking part of things is over,” explained Rolston this morning in Toronto before a post-morning skate media throng at the Air Canada Centre. “As Michael Jordan says, ‘I want to see it done and I want to hear it done.’
“We just talked about the situation. For a lot of players, that was there first time involved in a situation like that where a coach was let go and a new one was coming in to talk to them. We briefly talked about what we wanted to focus on; not worry about where we’re at, but what direction we’re moving in at this point.”
It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for Rolston, who woke up yesterday morning as the head coach of the Rochester Americans, getting ready to prepare for a home game against the Texas Stars. He realizes that with 31 games left in the regular season, it’s just a matter of jumpstarting a Sabres team that has struggled to not only score goals, but defend them as well.
“There’s not going to be major changes in terms of systems and things like that. Certainly, I think the players know what needs to be done at this point. The responsibility at this point falls on us to make sure we’re moving in that direction. And most importantly for the players as individuals, they have to make sure they’re accountable, and when they come to the rink tonight they’re ready to roll.”
For a handful of Sabres, this isn’t their first experience having Rolston behind the bench. Youngsters Marcus Foligno and TJ Brennan have spent parts of the last two seasons under Rolston in Rochester. The newest member of the Sabres, Kevin Porter, who joined the Sabres today, has served as the Amerks’ captain this season after being signed as a free agent in the summer.
This trio of players gave us some of their thoughts about Rolston, the 16th head coach in Sabres’ franchise history:
Foligno on how Rolston helped him in his rookie season with Rochester
"We did a lot of video. He brought me in to explain what he expected from me, and that he wanted me to be an important player. He just explained the facts. We started with the little things, and from there it moved on to bigger things. Ron is just very good at developing young guys, and I’m very fortunate to have been coached by him."
Foligno talks about what Rolston will bring to the Sabres
"Ron’s definitely a good developer and a good teacher, and he’s going to bring a lot of good things here. He’s familiar with my play, and he’s familiar with my style, so I think it’ll be a pretty easy transition."
Brennan describes Rolston’s coaching style
"He’s very positive; he’s an energy guy. I feel lucky that he’s coming in. He’s a familiar face that I know, and it’ll make me a little more comfortable. Hopefully it can be a positive turnaround for the team having Ron come in."
Porter’s thoughts on Rolston’s coaching philosphies
"He’s a great coach, really knows what he’s doing. He’s good with defensive play and he lets you play offense. I think it’s a good mixture and he’s going to be a good fit here"
Porter talks about Rolston’s future in the NHL
"He really has the tendencies of an NHL coach, and he definitely has the qualities. I think he’s going to be a good fit here for this team."
Cody McCormick cleared waivers today, and was replaced on the roster by Porter. The Detroit, Mich., native has played in 48 games this season with Rochester, amassing 44 points (15+29) and 38 penalty minutes.
Jordan Leopold did not take part in today’s skate, and will miss tonight’s game with an upper body injury. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game, and fourth time this season.
The Buffalo Sabres will look decidedly different tonight when they host the Winnipeg Jets at First Niagara Center. Defenseman Jordan Leopold will find himself scratched for the first time this season, and Drew Stafford has been dropped to the fourth line with John Scott and Cody McCormick. TJ Brennan will replace Leopold alongside Mike Weber, and will also man the point on the first power play unit. Patrick Kaleta moves up to the second line alongside Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.
Buffalo’s forward lines at today’s morning skate:
Power play unit #1: Vanek/Ennis/Foligno; Pominville/Brennan
Power play unit #2: Gerbe/Hodgson/Ott; Myers/Ehrhoff
Mikhail Grigorenko skated as the extra forward during today’s skate, and is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.
Ruff on the decision to scratch Leopold:
“I’ve talked to Jordan recently, probably three or four games ago, about improved play. I thought we got a couple of pretty strong games. But in the last game, I expect more out of him, out of a veteran defenseman. He’s gonna have to work hard to get back in now.”
Ruff on the decision to move Stafford off the second line:
“There’s an inside part to his game that is getting a little better. When he’s going well, you notice his skating. You notice the one-on-one battles; winning the majority of the one-on-one battles. When it isn’t going well, we’re not winning those battles.
“I didn’t think he was quite up to speed with his skating again the other night, and he lost some battles that I thought were key battles inside the game. It’s something that we’ve talked about. He needs to take a little bit more ownership on some of those battles to make a better play that turns into something better for us.”
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