COLUMBUS, OH --- Few Sabres draft picks in recent memory have garnered the attention that Zack Kassian has. Selected 13th overall in the 2009 Entry Draft, Kassian has become a cult hero to many Buffalo fans, many of whom have never even seen him play a game. Instead, Kassian’s following has been built on YouTube clips of his fights and hits from junior hockey.
At 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, Kassian is never going to shy away from the physicality. But he’s been using his time in Rochester to work on the offensive elements of his game.
“I’ve never been the guy who really looked for it. I’ve been put in a lot of situations offensively that I’ve succeeded pretty well in,” he said this morning. “When you’re put in those situations you don’t want to waste time in the penalty box, you want to improve as a player. The toughness in my game will always be there, it’s about developing other skills.”
Lindy Ruff is looking forward to seeing what the 20-year-old Kassian can bring to the ice tonight.
“He’s played well. Offensively he’s been going pretty good down in Rochester. He can really hang on to pucks; he might be as strong a player as we’ve got. He’s a big man already.”
Kassian will make his debut before numerous family and friends that have made the four-hour drive from his hometown of Windsor, Ont. Ruff has no intention of trying to tone down Kassian’s enthusiasm on what will be an emotional night for him.
You want to see the emotion; you want to see the intensity. You would like at some point to say ‘hey, you’ve gotta pull back.’ It’s a lot easier than trying kick him in the backside and say ‘hey, you’ve gotta get going.’”
Kassian is expected to start on right wing on a line with Luke Adam and Matt Ellis. Kassian and Adam have some familiarity with each other after dominating the Traverse City Prospect Tournament in September along with linemate Marcus Foligno.
The other lines at today’s morning skate were: Vanek/Hecht/Pominville; Leino/Roy/Stafford; Gerbe/Gaustad/Tropp.
No more media scrums. No more press conferences with the same questions being asked over and over. The time for talking is done. As they say in the WWE … “time to play the game.”
The Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins square off tonight at First Niagara Center in their first meeting since the infamous Ryan Miller/Milan Lucic collision on November 12 in Boston. This is the second of six meetings between the Northeast Division rivals, and the Bruins come into the contest on a nine-game winning streak.
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff had his game face on during his normal pre-game press conference, appearing stern and business-like throughout the unusually-brief three-minute game day gathering. The regular crop of local media was joined by several Boston scribes and a handful of Canadian national outlets such as TSN and CBC.
It was apparent early that Ruff wasn’t about to stoke the fire.
When asked what he was expecting from his team tonight, Ruff simply stated: “I’m expecting our team to come out real hard … in all areas.”
CLICK TO HEAR LINDY RUFF'S COMPLETE PRESS CONFERENCE
Ruff wouldn’t comment on Brendan Shanahan’s statement that there will be a “heightened awareness” by the league on tonight’s game, only saying that he hasn’t spoken to the team about the discipline czar’s comments.
Ruff also didn’t mince words when he was questioned about the team’s lack of response in light of the hit on Miller
“I’ll answer the question one more time,” Ruff said matter of factly. “We were disappointed in our response. And that won’t happen again.”
Ruff did confirm that forward Jochen Hecht will return to the Sabres lineup tonight for the first time this season. Hecht suffered a concussion on the second day of training camp, and hasn’t seen game action since Game 7 of last spring’s playoff series in Philadelphia.
The look on Jochen Hecht’s face said it all. After weeks of stalled comeback attempts, the 34-year-old declared himself 100 percent healthy and available to play in Wednesday’s grudge match with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. It’s been a long road back for Hecht, who has yet to play this season after suffering a concussion on the second day of training camp in an innocent collision with teammate Shaone Morrisonn.
“I’m excited about it,” said a smiling Hecht this morning. “It’s been a long time. The last game was in the playoffs against Philly, so I’m excited to get out there and play.”
“It was getting frustrating. You’re close, you’re coming back, but you’re still not 100 percent. But like I said, that week really helped. The (chiropractic and active release) treatment right now is catching on and I feel 100 percent again.”
Hecht practiced at center today on a line with rookies Luke Adam and Corey Tropp, a trio that Hecht jokingly referred to as “two young kids and the old guy.”
Tyler Ennis didn’t skate today, and Lindy Ruff said his injured ankle had become sore due to the increased workload over the past few days. “Some of that can be expected,” said Ruff. “It tells us he’s not quite there yet.” … Ruff also said that while Ryan Miller is feeling better, he still isn’t symptom free … Patrick Kaleta was absent from practice with a maintenance day.
In Kaleta’s absence, today’s practice lines looked like this:
The red-hot Bruins come into Buffalo riding a nine-game winning streak, the longest such streak in the NHL this season. It’s a far cry from the 3-7 start they got off to, which everyone immediately credited to a Stanley Cup hangover. Well it appears that a few Tylenol and some Alka-Seltzer rid the B’s of that hangover because they’ve been on fire ever since. Check out some of these gaudy numbers from the current streak:
- This is Boston’s longest win streak since a 10-game stretch from Dec. 12, 2008-Jan. 1, 2009. They haven’t lost since a 4-2 setback in Montreal on October 29.
- They have outscored their opponents by a 43-14 margin, and have scored fewer than four goals just twice in the nine games (2-1 vs. Columbus on Nov. 17; 1-0 @ Montreal on Nov. 21). In their first 10 games, they scored just 22 goals and allowed 25.
- Boston’s goal differential of plus-26 is 11 more than second place Pittsburgh.
- Boston carries a 162:11 shutout streak into tonight’s game, with their last goal allowed being a Derek MacKenzie score on Tuukka Rask at 2:49 of the second period in the win over Columbus on Nov. 17
- The Bruins have scored 10 goals in their last 45 power play opportunities (22.2%), which snapped an 0-for-22 stretch after scoring on their first power play opportunity of the season.
CAROLINA -- Tyler Myers got the news he’d been hoping for yesterday when NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan informed him that no suspension would be levied on him for the hit on Dainius Zubrus in Wednesday’s game against New Jersey.
“One of the points that was brought up, was that there was contact with the head but there was also contact with the body,” said Myers. “If it had been a more lateral hit and just contact to the head, then there would’ve been a hearing and most likely a suspension. One of the things we discussed was that because I drove up and not across, that’s why there was no punishment for it.”
Being 6-foot-8 presents a problem for Myers when it comes to bodychecking. Physical play needs to be an integral part of his game, but it can also push him over that “thin line” when he makes contact. Myers clearly wasn’t targeting Zubrus’ head, but his body size makes it tough to avoid a smaller player in a case like that.
“That’s how it’s been throughout my whole life. It’s tough sometimes because my shoulder is going to be at (head) level when I engage players during a hit. It’s tough but you just have to manage it.”
Lindy Ruff agreed that Myers didn’t target Zubrus’ head, and understands the difficulties that he’ll have to deal with while being a dominating physical presence on the ice.
“It’s definitely tough. Obviously I challenged him to be more physical. I thought he played (on Wednesday) the way he needs to play as a big man. I think it’ll be tough, because there will be situations where the way his body is, his elbows and everything are head high. And that makes it tougher on a big man.”
TJ Brennan was recalled from Rochester on Thursday, but he’s not expected to be in the lineup tonight in Carolina. Ruff said the recall was more of a precautionary measure because the team is now down to six healthy defensemen due to the upper body injury Mike Weber suffered on Wednesday.
After being a healthy scratch for the first time in his professional career on Monday in Montreal, defenseman Tyler Myers will be back in the lineup tonight when the Buffalo Sabres host the New Jersey Devils at First Niagara Center. (7:30 p.m., Versus)
“It’s nice that I’m able to get this second chance pretty early,” Myers said after this morning’s optional skate. “It’s about making the most of it. I know how I have to play, and it’s a matter of putting my mind to it and doing it. It’s something that needed to be done, and I understand why they did it. Now it’s just a matter of responding.”
Mike Weber will remain in the Sabres lineup tonight, making Marc-Andre Gragnani a healthy scratch.
With Cody McCormick not able to play tonight due to injury, Corey Tropp made the one-hour drive from Rochester for his second recall of the season. Tropp played four games with the Sabres from Nov. 4-11 while Patrick Kaleta served his four-game suspension, scoring his first career NHL goal along with one assist. He has seven points (4+3) in 11 games with the Amerks.
“We’re moving him along; most of it has been flow,” Ruff explains. “The next step will be stops and starts, really trying to dig in. That’s the area with an ankle sprain that you start to question. The step after that is to get involved in the one-on-one battles where it’s not only your weight, you’re going to be carrying somebody else’s weight.”
MONTREAL – Tyler Myers will find himself in an unfamiliar setting tonight, as he will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career when the Sabres play the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Mike Weber will be inserted into the lineup to replace Myers.
Head Coach Lindy Ruff said that Myers needs to improve his decision making process, and Myers is the first to admit he’s capable of better.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE COMPLETE TYLER MYERS INTERVIEW
“The way I’ve been playing the last three out of four, that’s not good enough for me. I have to be better. I know that, the coaches know that. Until I do, stuff like this is going to happen.
“It’s just one step. Get (mad), come out next game and start playing the game I know I can. To do that, playing a lot more physical will help my game.”
Myers missed just two games in his first two seasons when he was felled by the flu for a pair of games last December 27/28.
Online voting for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game started today, and Myers is one of four Sabres on the ballot along with Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.
Fans can access the interactive ballot by logging on to NHL.com/vote. They can also vote via text message using any mobile device and wireless carrier or via a mobile ballot available available on iPhone, Android and other mobile devices. To vote via text message using any wireless carrier, fans should text their favorite player’s last name to the shortcode 81812.
Voting concludes Jan. 4, with the top six vote-getters by position - three forwards, two defensemen and goalie – set to take part in the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game on January 29 in Ottawa.
MONTREAL – In the middle of a weekend stretch that has them playing three games over four nights in three different cities, the Buffalo Sabres opted to hold a team meeting rather than a full practice at the Bell Centre today. The team arrived in Montreal late Saturday night following a 6-2 loss in Boston to the Bruins. A handful of players took part in an optional skate afterwards, including injured forwards Tyler Ennis and Jochen Hecht.
The Sabres are back in action Monday here in Montreal against the Canadiens in a 7 p.m. start that will be televised nationally by Versus. They return home to the First Niagara Center on Wednesday to host the New Jersey Devils at 7:30 p.m. in another game that will also be on Versus.
BOSTON, MA --- Nathan Gerbe spent three years honing his craft at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., just a short 20-minute drive from the TD Garden in downtown Boston. Tonight he’ll reach an NHL milestone when he plays in his 100th career game against the Boston Bruins, as the Sabres look to extend their winning streak to five games.
It’s a unique opportunity for Gerbe to play this milestone game in a city that still means so much to him.
Gerbe was Hobey Baker finalist in 2008 for Boston College when he led the nation in scoring with 68 points (35+33) in 43 games, and was named Most Outstanding Player in the Frozen Four that season as BC defeated Notre Dame in the championship game.
After a slow start last year with one goal and six assists in his first 24 games, Gerbe finished the season with 15 goals and nine assists over his last 40 games. This year he already has nine points (3+6) in 15 games, giving him 46 points in 99 career games. Gerbe credits his success in the NHL to finally being able to find a comfort level with his game.
“Even last year when the offense wasn’t there, I thought I was playing well, moving well and creating chances. That’s the thing for me; I need to use my legs to create chances on the ice. That’s been a key for me this season, and I need to focus a little more on putting pucks in the net.”
Patrick Kaleta will return to the Sabres lineup tonight after serving a four-game suspension for a head-butt delivered to Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek on November 2. Kaleta will be the first to admit that his aggressive style of play is what makes him tick, but he realizes that he has to watch himself on the ice now as a repeat offender in the eyes of NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.
“You learn from your mistakes,” said Kaleta today following the team’s optional morning skate in Boston. “It’s like I’ve been saying for the past little while, it’s about changing my game and I’ve been working pretty hard at it since the beginning of summer. It’s a little bump in the road, but I can’t let it bother me.”
Lindy Ruff declined to discuss the team’s goaltending situation after today’s skate. However both goalies were among the 10 players that participated in the optional skate, and Miller was the first of the two goaltenders to leave the ice. This is normally the indicator of who will be starting the game that night.
In Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg, the Buffalo Sabres finished the night winning 50 of 75 faceoffs against the Jets. It was the highest single game total by the Sabres since the NHL started tracking faceoff stats in 1998, and the most by any team since Minnesota won 52 against Carolina on October 7, 2010.
Leading the way for Buffalo was the duo of Paul Gaustad (15-5) and Jason Pominville (12-2), who combined to go 27-7 in the game. The 12 wins were a career high for Pominville, who has quietly developed into one of the team’s most reliable faceoff artists.
Pominville is already at 52.4% (55/105) after 14 games this season, something that assistant coach Kevyn Adams credits to him simply being a good student of the game.
“Jason is very diligent about faceoffs,” explains Adams. “He works hard after practice, and studies a lot of video. He’s also very focused in the faceoff circle; he knows what he needs to do.”
Adams said Pominville’s success is a carryover from what they started last season, and he thinks it will only get better based on the early returns.
Having spent much of the year playing on a line with Luke Adam, the two have been splitting up a lot of the faceoff duties based on their strong side – Pominville is a right shot who excels on the right side, while Adam is a left-handed shot who takes most of the draws on the left side.
Pominville is quick to credit Adams and Gaustad for his continued faceoff development
“Having Paul and Kevyn here, being able to talk about it and practice them every day, I think it’s benefitted me. It’s an important part of the game – if you want to start with the puck you need to win faceoffs.”
INJURY UPDATES: After missing Wednesday’s practice with what he simply termed as a “maintenance day,” Tyler Myers was back on the ice today and expects to play Friday against Ottawa … Tyler Ennis skated today for about 30 minutes. Ruff said there wasn’t any agility skating involved, just several laps around the ice. His status remains week-to-week.
The Buffalo Sabres returned to First Niagara Center for practice on Monday, with much of the attention focused on goaltender Ryan Miller. Head coach Lindy Ruff surprised many observers when he started Jhonas Enroth on Saturday in Ottawa, keeping Miller in a backup role for a second straight game. Enroth backstopped the Sabres to a 3-2 shootout win, improving his record to 4-0-0 along with a 1.41 GAA and .952 save percentage.
Miller said he was informed of the move by Ruff on team’s flight to Ottawa on Friday night. While he was somewhat surprised by it, Miller said he took the change in stride.
Miller hasn’t been in the Sabres net since the team fell behind 3-0 in the first seven minutes against Philadelphia last Tuesday. For Miller, the biggest adjustment in this process has been trying to get used to having some much time in between game action. He’s expected to get the start tomorrow against Winnipeg, and he’s more than ready to get back between the pipes.
“I always try to use my time to the best of my abilities, and this week’s no different. We had practice time, and we also had some down time when I did what I could to just relax. My last outing wasn’t the way you like to leave the ice. You want to go out and do your job. The next chance I get I’ll be ready.”
Ruff said that having a goaltender of Enroth’s capabilities on the bench can be viewed as a luxury for a team like the Sabres, who play a league-high 21 sets of back-to-back games this season.
“Considering we’re the team that plays the most back-to-back games, it’s a good thing for our team. You can stick a fresh goaltender in there that you know is going to play well in those situations. I think it gives us something that could put us almost on a level playing field against the teams that aren’t playing back to back when we walk into their building. I look at is an equalizer for us.”
Jochen Hecht skated on his own after practice today, and Ruff declared him as being “symptom free” again He rode the stationary bike yesterday, and his workouts will continue to ramped up during the week … Ruff said they hope to have Tyler Ennis back in skates this week, however he was cautious to give a definitive timetable for his return. Ennis hasn’t had any problems working out off the ice since the injury, but being able to comfortably get his foot back into a skate will be the key.