Just when you thought things couldn’t any worse for the Buffalo Sabres, you can now add Thomas Vanek to the list of the team’s walking wounded. Vanek was one of several Sabres that didn’t take part in Buffalo’s practice at First Niagara Center today, before they boarded a short flight to Canada’s capital for a Tuesday night meeting with the Ottawa Senators.
After being dealt another three injuries on Saturday, combined with a minor league affiliate returning home from a three-game Texas road trip, the team couldn’t even ice four full practice lines this morning. With Tyler Ennis (ankle) and Colin Stuart (knee) now out of the lineup, that meant one of today’s lines consisted of Brad Boyes, Marc-Andre Gragnani and…nobody.
“It’s dire here. It’s probably even worse in Rochester,” said Lindy Ruff. “I’ve never seen anything like it really. Hopefully we can start getting a few bodies back. It looks now like Brad Boyes will be the first one we could get back. It’s tough, but you’ve gotta find ways to win games.”
Two players are expected to be recalled from Rochester for Tuesday's game, but Ruff said they hadn't determined yet who they would be.
** UPDATE (6:50 p.m.) -- Marcus Foligno and Derek Whitmore have been recalled from Rochester. **
Ruff updated the status of a few of the injured Sabres:
- Brad Boyes (ankle): Although he skated well in a non-contact role today, he will not be available on Tuesday. “I thought he made out well, it was encouraging. I wouldn’t have said this before practice, but maybe there’s a chance for Thursday.”
- Tyler Ennis (ankle): “Tyler tried to skate this morning and couldn’t go, so he won’t be available.”
- Patrick Kaleta (lower body): “We’ll find out today. I don’t think it was a big step back. We’ve really nailed it down; it’s a little more definitive now. He could be good by the end of the week.”
PITTSBURGH -- Lindy Ruff gathered his troops at the hotel this morning, and they sat down with some popcorn and cold drinks to watch the video of last night’s exciting win over Toronto. Only a handful of players then made the short walk next door in light snowy conditions to the Consol Energy Center for an optional skate.
Ruff dressed seven defensemen last night against Toronto, but doesn’t plan on doing that tonight in Pittsburgh. Even in the back-to-back scenario, Ruff isn’t planning on sharing time between Marc-Andre Gragnani and Brayden McNabb like he did last night. Gragnani played 14:16, while McNabb only skated 6:48.
“My plan is not to use Marc on wing. If anything I’ll take a defenseman out and play four lines – play Colin Stuart. I thought Marc played well last night on the back end. He moved the puck well and did some good things. That wasn’t any of our issues.”
With the firing of Jacques Martin in Montreal today, there have now been 169 coaching changes in the NHL since Ruff was hired in Buffalo on July 21, 1997. Ruff, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, understands the volatile nature of the head coaching position.
“We’re in a tough business. I feel fortunate to be standing here talking to you guys when we’ve had a lot of coaches that have lost their positions. I don’t think Jacques was doing a bad job. I think that’s what our league is; the parity is really close and it’s tough to pull away. I think Jacques is a good coach. He’s a good man, and a good coach.”
CLICK TO HEAR RUFF'S COMPLETE AUDIO
Ruff is very familiar with Martin’s successor in Montreal. Randy Cunneyworth played for the Sabres under Ruff, and also coached Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester for eight seasons before moving on to an assistant’s position with Atlanta.
“If you ask the players, he’s good with the players. He has a good rapport. He’s a player’s coach. I think that’s what our business is. You go from a guy that’s hard, to a guy that’s easy … to a guy that’s hard, to a guy that’s easy. You find maybe a better way to relate to some players. And I think that’s what they’re looking at. Randy is a good man and I’m sure that he’ll do a good job.”
Buffalo isn’t the only team being ravaged by injuries this season. The Penguins are already without stars Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, and last night they lost defenseman Paul Martin with an apparent leg injury. Zbynek Michalek also missed his eighth straight with a concussion. With all they key injuries on the Penguins blueline, Ruff says they need to play an attacking north-south game against the Penguins tonight.
“For us, it’s try to play a puck pressure game. Challenge the defense; create some opportunities because of the personnel that are missing.”
Tonight’s game closes out Buffalo’s ninth of a league-high 21 sets of back-to-back games this season. The Sabres are 6-3-0 in the first game and 5-3-0 in the second. The Sabres have swept two sets and split six.
- Ryan Miller will start in goal tonight.
- Patrick Kaleta did not take part in morning skate; his status for tonight is unclear.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING THIS MORNING
Lindy Ruff (CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE RUFF AUDIO)
On the playing status of Patrick Kaleta
Pat got in this morning and wasn’t feeling well. We’ll get him through it, and get him going. It’s all you can do. There’s nothing else you can do about it.
What’s the difference you’ve seen in the Leafs this season?
I think right now it’s their depth in scoring. They’ve got two or three lines that are producing. Their power play has been good, but their penalty killing has struggled a little bit. They struggled a bit when Reimer was out, but he’s back now.
Have you noticed a difference in Tim Connolly’s play so far this season?
I see the same. Even with us, I think we would’ve won the Flyers series if we don’t lose him. He was that important of a player to us at that time. He was a big part of our power play, and he was our number one penalty killer. I think that’s something that goes really unnoticed. He’s a penalty killer that will lay it on the line. He’ll go down on both knees to block shots, he’ll block one timers. You go back to the Flyers series, he gave up his body three or four times. Where as you look at some skill players in the league and they’ll be doing the double flamingo.
Jason Pominville (CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE POMINVILLE AUDIO)
Do you think the fans and media were too hard on Connolly when he was here?
I think a lot was expected out of him because of his ability offensively. But a lot of things that he did away from that might have been underestimated. His play away from the puck, the way he killed penalties, and on most nights he would play against the other team’s top line. Those are things the players notice, but other people might not. He did what he had to do.
Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy will both be playing in their 500th NHL games tonight. The pair will become just the 25th and 26th players to suit up for 500 or more games with the Sabres in franchise history, and join Jochen Hecht as the only other active SabreS on the list. Vanek (415 pts) and Roy (403 pts) are 12th and 13th respectively in all-time franchise scoring.
Tonight’s game opens up Buffalo’s ninth of a league-high 21 sets of back-to-back games this season. The Sabres are 5-3-0 in the first game and 5-3-0 in the second. The Sabres have swept two sets and split six. They continue this set tomorrow night in Pittsburgh.
Hard to believe that it’s taken this long, but the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs will finally meet for the first time this season tomorrow night at First Niagara Center. In fact, Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team the Sabres have yet to play this season.
But despite all their success this season, the Maple Leafs have struggled mightily against Buffalo over the past six seasons. The Sabres are 29-12-1 against the Maple Leafs since the lockout. The 29 wins are Buffalo’s highest win total against one team during this time, ahead of Boston (27) and Montreal (24). After dropping a 2-1 decision at home to the Leafs on February 16 of last season, Buffalo will look to avoid consecutive home losses to Toronto for the first time since March 21/December 12, 2008.
Toronto’s power play success this season could also come to a screeching halt tomorrow night. Not only do the Sabres have the league’s seventh-best penalty killing unit (86.4%, 95/110), they have killed off their last 47 penalties against Toronto. The streak spans 13 games, dating back to March 27, 2009 when Nikolai Kulemin scored at 8:30 of the 3rd period. At 13 games, it’s also the longest active streak in the NHL.
Ryan Miller has posted some gaudy career numbers against the blue and white, going 24-11-0 all-time with a 2.28 GAA and a .928 SV%. He has more wins (24) and shutouts (4) against the Maple Leafs than any other team in the league, and his .928 save percentage is his best against any team that he’s played more than six times. Miller’s 24 career wins against the Maple Leafs lead all active goaltenders.
The Buffalo Sabres injury carousel added another passenger today as head coach Lindy Ruff announced after practice that Ville Leino is expected to miss several weeks with a lower body injury.
Ruff said the injury took place in last night’s 3-2 overtime loss to Ottawa, but didn’t provide any specific details. Leino had 14:49 of ice time in 16 shifts, but remained on the bench throughout the entire game. His final shift lasted 56 seconds and ended at 18:59 of the third period. Leino played seven shifts in the first period, five in the second and just four in the third.
Tyler Myers said the rehab for his broken wrist is progressing well, and he would like to return to the lineup before the Christmas break if possible. Myers injured the wrist against Phoenix on November 19. He will be reevaluated by doctors on Friday and Monday, and a decision regarding his playing status will be made at that time. He has been skating and doing some light puckwork, and is now able to start getting more involved in practices.
Ruff wasn’t as optimistic about Jochen Hecht coming back to the lineup anytime soon.
“Jochen still can’t do anything so he’s going to be a while,” said Ruff.
When asked if Hecht may have broken a bone when he blocked a shot against Florida last Friday, Ruff wouldn’t elaborate on the extent of Hecht’s injury.
“It’s a little more complicated than that. It’s not really a broken bone, but it’s a little more complicated.”
Brad Boyes has started skating again, but is weeks away from returning to the lineup. He’s still experiencing some soreness in his right ankle, and doesn’t have a timetable as to when he’ll be back practicing with the team. Boyes suffered a high ankle sprain against Boston on November 23. This is the first time Boyes has missed any time due to injury. At the time of his injury, Boyes was among the NHL leaders with a consecutive games played streak of 513 games.
Sabres prospect Mark Pysyk was today named to Canada’s 22-man roster for the 2012 World Junior Championship that will take place December 26-January 5 in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. Pysyk was selected 23rd overall in the 2010 Entry Draft, and is currently in his fourth full season with the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings. The 19-year-old defenseman has 18 points (2+16) and 47 penalty minutes in 25 games so far this season.
Pysyk was one of two Sabres prospects invited to Canada’s selection camp. Defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc (2010, 3rd round, 68th) currently leads all CHL defensemen in scoring with 47 points (18+29) in 31 games with Rimouski of the QMJHL, but he was cut on Tuesday.
-Miller will start in goal tonight.
-Weber and Gaustad returning from injury; McNabb stays in lineup; Kaleta is a game-time decision.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING THIS MORNING
Lindy Ruff --- (CLICK TO HEAR RUFF'S FULL PRESS CONFERENCE)
Can you explain the recent success against Ottawa?
I get asked this every time and I don’t have a good enough answer. We’ve had some good scoring against them, and our goaltending has been really good at times. There have been games where we’ve had the special teams edge. It’s almost where we had it going in the wrong direction years ago when we couldn’t win, and now we’ve tipped it the other way.
I don’t feel like I’m forced to play Brayden. He’s earned a spot with the way he’s played.
How important is the need for secondary scoring?
We’ve had a real good push from Pominville and Vanek up top. But it’s time for Ennis, Stafford and Roy to make a difference inside of games. They had eight scoring chances (on Saturday), and I can’t stand here and tell you they did a great job because of the chances. Great chances are only good if they end up in the back of the net. I’ve like Tyler the last couple of games finally. The speed and quickness in his game is back. Now it’s the ability to finish.
Are you looking forward to getting back in the lineup tonight?
For sure. It’s been three weeks with the injury but it’s felt like three months. I’m excited about getting back and being able to help my teammates again.
Was it frustrating to be out so long with the rib injury?
As much as I bugged (trainer Tim Macre) to get x-rays every day to see how it was progressing, it was one of those things where the bone takes three weeks to heal. But now it’s healed and I’m ready to rock.
Will your physical game be affected at all by the injury?
I’m cleared so I’m ready to go. Other than the first couple of days I haven’t had any pain or soreness. There’ll be no hesitation. I know what I have to do and I know how I have to play.
Based on how tight the Eastern Conference standings are, how important are the next five games?
You’re so close to being one of the top teams in the conference, and you’re also so close to being one of the bottom teams. There’s not a big difference, and the parity is huge. We need to use these division games to climb, or push teams back. We see it no different regardless of who we are playing, we want to keep climbing.
It’s only mid-December, but the Buffalo Sabres are about to begin as important a 10-day stretch of their schedule as they will face all season.
Starting tomorrow, four of Buffalo’s next five games are against their divisional and geographic rivals from Ottawa and Toronto. They will face each of them at home this week (Tues. vs. Ottawa; Fri. vs. Toronto), before heading out on the road next week for pre-Christmas tilts in their barns on Tuesday (Ottawa) and Thursday (Toronto). Sandwiched in between is a road game in Pittsburgh this Saturday.
Buffalo enters play today with sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference with 32 points. They are one point behind sixth-place Toronto, and two ahead of Ottawa in the 11th spot. In a conference that is clustered together worse than holiday shoppers in your local mall, the Sabres know they have to treat this stretch of games like a late season playoff run.
“It’s March all the time. You lose the points now, they’re hard to get later on,” says Thomas Vanek. “We definitely want to finish out good here before our little Christmas break. That’s definitely our focus.”
“They’re very important. It’s a big week for us,” Ruff stated today. “We’re getting a little bit healthier, and that’s a big plus for us. Ryan (Miller) is back, he’s healthier. I think we’ve got a lot of good things coming back into the fold, and it should be just a great, emotional week. You get to play the teams you like to hate. You get to play them in your division.”
It was uncharted territory for Paul Szczechura today, as he was finally able to take part in a full team practice for the first time this season. The 26-year-old Szczechura has played in four games during three separate recalls from Rochester, but in each case he’s never been around long enough to take part in anything more than pre-game warmups. Even during training camp, Szczechura was limited to non-contact drills because he was rehabbing from injury.
“It’s been different,” said Szczechura, who once again centered a line between Vanek and Jason Pominville. “It was good to get some reps in with those guys to see how they do things a little more. I think it’ll help build the chemistry a little bit.”
INJURY UPDATES: Ruff said that forwards Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta are close to returning, and he expects one or even both to be back sometime this week … Defenseman Mike Weber is also nearing a return, and Ruff wouldn’t rule him out as a possibility for tomorrow's game against Ottawa … Tyler Myers has been skating on his own, and has begun using his stick and handling the puck on a limited basis. While Ruff is encouraged by Myers’ progress, there’s still no timetable for his return. Myers broke his wrist on November 19 in the second period of a game against Phoenix. The original prognosis called for a 4-6 week recovery process.
Getting off to a good start against Philadelphia was one of the things that Lindy Ruff had been preaching for days, and they did just that with an early three-goal outburst. But Thomas Vanek thinks they may have gotten a little complacent with the three-goal lead, and should’ve kept their foot on the gas.
“There’s nothing wrong with 3-0. But at the same time, against good teams like Philly, they have a lot of firepower and you know they’re going to get chances. We did have some good chances to put them away and we didn’t. We’ve got to get a bit of that swagger mentality and keep going.”
Ryan Miller will get his second consecutive start tonight …. Jordan Leopold was paired with Brayden McNabb this morning, and is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing three games with an upper body injury … Joe Finley was not on the ice today, and has been returned to Rochester … Paul Gaustad also skated, but his playing status for tonight is questionable. Lindy Ruff said they would be recalling a forward from Rochester this afternoon … Patrick Kaleta took part in today’s morning skate wearing the red non-contact jersey.
The version of the Florida Panthers that come into First Niagara Center tonight is markedly different from the team we’ve seen in recent years. They shutout the defending Cup champion Bruins 2-0 last night in Boston, and are now just one point out of the overall lead in the Eastern Conference. When was the last time Florida occupied top spot in the East? Wayyyy back on February 12, 1997 when they were 28-15-3 (69 pts) and had an assistant coach named Lindy Ruff. That was also one season removed from the franchise’s only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Here are some other facts about tonight’s opponent:
- The Panthers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, and 16-8-4 on the season. This is their best start since going 16-8-2-2 through 28 games in 1999-2000
- The Panthers hold a seven-point lead over Washington for first place in the Southeast, the largest divisional lead in the NHL
- Florida’s 10 road wins are tied with Philadelphia for most in the NHL
- Their plus-12 road goal differential is second only to Boston’s plus-15
- Jason Garrison leads all NHL defensemen in goals with eight. He came into this season with seven in 113 career games.
Today’s game begins Buffalo’s eighth of a league-high 21 sets of back-to-back games this season. The Sabres are 4-3-0 in the first game and 5-2-0 in the second. The Sabres have swept two sets and split five. They wrap this set up tomorrow night against the New York Rangers. This is also the first of two sets of back-to-back home games. The next set takes place on Feb. 10-11 against Dallas and Tampa.
Lindy Ruff has had 24 hours to digest the two-game suspension handed down to Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo yesterday, and he spoke in measured words today when asked for his thoughts on it.
“In my eyes, it was good to see the suspension,” said Ruff. “I don’t know if that’s a great deterrent, but it’s definitely a sign that they don’t want players running goaltenders.”
LISTEN TO RUFF'S COMPLETE PRE-GAME PRESS CONFERENCE
Tootoo received a charging major and game misconduct for crashing into Ryan Miller in the crease during the second period of Saturday’s game in Nashville.
Miller gets the start in net tonight for Buffalo, and it’s a chance for him to get redemption for his poor start in Philadelphia’s first game here on November 2. Miller allowed three goals in the first 6:23 before being replaced by Jhonas Enroth.
“Hockey’s a funny game. I thought (Philadelphia) had a pretty aggressive start and they got some good goals,” Miller explained. “I would’ve liked to get a piece of a few of them, make a save. But I didn’t happen that night, and I fully expect to be able to put myself in the position to make the saves this time.”
Philadelphia enters First Niagara Center for the second and final time this season with the NHL’s best road record of 9-3-1. Tonight’s game concludes a three-game road trip for the Flyers that started last Friday with a 4-3 win in Anaheim, followed by a 4-2 victory the next night in Phoenix. The Flyers start the night three points behind Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh, but hold three games in hand. The Flyers and Penguins will meet for the first time this season tomorrow night in Philadelphia.
Tonight is just Philadelphia’s 26th game of the season, but they are second in the league in goals scored (88), and lead the league with a goals per game average of 3.52. Only the Rangers and San Jose (both at 24) have played fewer games than Philadelphia so far.
The NHL has handed down their ruling, and Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo has received a two-game slap on the wrist for running over Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller during the second period of Saturday’s game in Nashville. Tootoo received a charging major and game misconduct on the play. This was Miller’s first game back in goal after suffering a head/neck injury in Boston on November 12 during a collision with Milan Lucic.
Here’s the video explanation of Tootoo’s suspension from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan:
This is not the first time Tootoo has been suspended by the NHL. In March 2007, he received five games for a reckless punch to the face that left Stephane Robidas of the Dallas Stars laying unconscious and concussed on the ice. However in this case, Shanahan said the league took into account that Tootoo had not been assessed any supplemental discipline in the past four years.
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff had already completed his media availability prior to the suspension being announced this afternoon. We’ll have his reaction following Wednesday’s morning skate at First Niagara Center. Ruff said yesterday he hoped to see a “strong message” from the league in regards to the suspension. “It’s just time; I hope they do the right thing with it,” he said.
Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia is the start of five consecutive games at home for the Sabres. They have won just once in their past six on home ice, and have compiled a 6-8-1 record at First Niagara Center so far this season.
Captain Jason Pominville says part of the team’s success will be derived from their tenacity in the one-on-one battles during a game, something that Ruff focused heavily on during today’s practice at the Northtown Center in Amherst.
“It’s kind of like what Detroit did to us when they came into our barn,” Pominville explained. “They were hard on pucks, and turned their backs and made some good plays. That’s kind of what we want to do. We want to be better at home in this little stretch that we have here.”
Cody McCormick passed his baseline test, and could be available for tomorrow’s game … Joe Finley has been recalled from Rochester and will take the place of Jordan Leopold (upper body) in the lineup.
Jochen Hecht was back on the ice today centering a line with Pominville and Thomas Vanek. The other lines today were: Drew Stafford-Derek Roy-Tyler Ennis; Ville Leino-Luke Adam-Zack Kassian. The fourth line featured Matt Ellis between Nathan Gerbe and a combination of McCormick and Corey Tropp.
The defense pairings were: Christian Ehrhoff-Marc-Andre Gragnani; Robyn Regehr-Andrej Sekera; Brayden McNabb-Finley. Leopold and Mike Weber participated in practice in non-contact roles.