-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.
It’s getting to the point where Lindy Ruff should open his daily media briefings wearing a lab coat and carrying a clipboard. The injury bug continues to ravage the Sabres lineup, with Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht being the latest casualties during Saturday’s 3-2 win in Nashville.
“You’d almost say that it becomes humorous, but it’s something that obviously we don’t take lightly,” said Ruff. “You go through some of the injuries, and some of them have been in really tough incidents for us. From Gerbe – he’ll be back – but that was a tough incident to lose him. Even the Myers play was tough. A guy falling on Brad Boyes, (Tyler) Ennis going into a post. We’ve had some incidents that really haven’t happened to us before. I think once we get by that and get healthy, we’ll be okay.”
- Gaustad: Suffered an upper body injury in the scrum following the Jordin Tootoo hit on Ryan Miller. He did not skate today, and a timetable for his return is unknown at this time.
- Hecht: Day-to-day with an upper body injury sustained on the last shift of Saturday’s game. Ruff said it’s not related to the concussion that caused Hecht to miss the first 20 games, and he has a shot to play on Wednesday.
- Cody McCormick: Hasn’t played since November 14 at Montreal. He’ll undergo post-concussion testing today, and is expected to get the green light to return for Wednesday's game against Philadelphia.
- Jordan Leopold : Missed the last two games with upper body. He skated today but is not expected to return Wednesday.
Ruff has seen enough of Tyler Ennis not shooting the puck, and it took a play in the second period on Saturday to send him over the edge. When Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback came all the way out to the blueline to play a loose puck, Ennis grabbed it and held on instead of advancing the puck towards the net.
Ruff wasn’t happy with the play and said as much to the young winger in between periods.
“I actually talked to him. I brought him in and said, ‘You’ve gotta start shooting. No more of the fiddling around with it and thinking about what you’re gonna do … you’re gonna go in and you’re gonna shoot.’ I broke it down this way: ‘You stickhandled 10 times when the goalie was out.’ From when he pulled up, he handled the puck over 10 times. By the time he handled it the last time, there were three guys playing goal. Just little areas like that, that’s not being on top of your game. That’s not playing the game quick enough.”
Ennis came into the game scoreless in eight games, but finally got off the schneid when he scored the game winner late in the third. Ruff has no doubt that his words were still echoing in Ennis’ mind.
“I think he made a decision in the third period that was aided, that he’s shooting the puck from now on. And he got rewarded. It’s that simple. We’ve gotta play the game quicker.”
A pair of key pieces will return to the Buffalo lineup tonight when the Sabres host the Detroit Red Wings in a 7:30 p.m. start at First Niagara Center.
Ryan Miller passed his concussion testing yesterday, and will be back in uniform for the first time since November 12 in Boston. Tyler Ennis returns after missing 17 games with an ankle injury suffered in Tampa Bay on October 22. Lindy Ruff didn’t say if Miller would be starting tonight or tomorrow in Nashville.
LISTEN TO LINDY RUFF'S COMPLETE MORNING SKATE AUDIO
For Ennis it’s an opportunity to take a mulligan on a season that started slowly for him, as he was held without a point in the seven games he played in. Much more is expected of the offensively-talented 22-year-old who had 22 goals and 49 points last year in his rookie season.
“We need him to be creative when he can be. He knows the situations we want him to hang on, and he knows the situations where he’s gotta try to get pucks to the net,” explained Ruff. “He even admitted that he passed up some great opportunities. Part of Tyler being effective is his ability to hold on to the puck and open people up. We need him to hang to pucks.”
Ennis will play right wing on a line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford.
Detroit comes into tonight’s game having won six in a row, and 10 of their last 12 games. They have outscored the opposition 24-11 during the current streak, and have allowed three goals or more just once in their past six games. The Red Wings are one of five teams with a league-leading 15 wins so far.
If Zack Kassian’s recall last week would be considered “eagerly anticipated,” you can file Joe Finley’s in the “completely unexpected” category. Because that’s normally what happens when you start the season as a healthy scratch in the AHL after being a Sabres training camp invitee.
But Finley isn’t your run of the mill minor league recall. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound defenseman was a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2005, and played four years at the University of North Dakota. In his first professional season with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, Finley suffered a ruptured artery in his hand on an innocent play in the defensive zone when he was checking an opposition player.
The injury has limited Finley to just 69 professional games since then, including 26 at the AHL level with Hershey and now Rochester. In 18 games with the Amerks this season, Finley leads the team with 57 PIMs and a plus-10 rating, while adding one goal and one assist.
Finley, 24, started the season on an AHL deal, but was signed to an NHL contract by the Sabres on Monday. Three days later he finds himself preparing for his first NHL game on Friday night when Detroit comes to town. Finley knows what has worked for him in Rochester, and wants to play the same way in Buffalo.
“I really just took it upon myself to focus on the things I can control, and that’s trying to play a real simple, solid brand of hockey. I’ve been fortunate to do that so far. Things are moving in the right direction but there’s a long way to go to be here full time, that’s for sure.”
With Jordan Leopold out of the lineup recovering from an upper body injury, many would have assumed TJ Brennan and his offensive skills would’ve been a better fit as his replacement on the blueline. But Brennan also has an upper body injury, and Finley was the best man for the job in the eyes of Amerks coach Ron Rolston.
A native of Edina, Minn., Finley may not have the offensive numbers that Brennan does, but Lindy Ruff was very impressed with his skating during training camp.
“He was able to skate and make plays, and for a big man that’s always the challenge,” explains Ruff. “He skates very well, he’s able to handle the puck, and his first pass has been good. When you have that size and that reach, you’ve got an automatic advantage over a lot of players.”
INJURY UPDATES: Ryan Miller was going to undergo concussion testing today, and it looks like he will start one of the games this weekend … Drew MacIntyre has been returned to Rochester … Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain) skated on a line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford today. He is expected to be back in the lineup tomorrow against Detroit after missing the last 17 games … Patrick Kaleta (groin) got through practice without any problems, and his playing status for Friday will be determined after the morning skate. He has missed the last four games.
The Buffalo Sabres were missing nine regulars from their lineup on Saturday, and still managed to handily defeat an uninterested Washington Capitals squad by a 5-1 count. Three of the walking wounded – Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta and Robyn Regehr – are expected back in the Sabres lineup tonight when they host the New York Islanders at First Niagara Center.
For the second day in a row, Stafford skated on a line with Luke Adam and Ville Leino, while Kaleta played the right side with Paul Gaustad and Matt Ellis. Regehr and rookie Brayden McNabb will be together on the blueline to form one of the most imposing defensive pairings in recent Sabres history. In his first NHL game on Saturday, McNabb had a game-high six hits.
Regehr was experiencing some headaches following an innocent play during Friday’s game in Columbus, but has since been cleared by the doctors to return to game action.
He describes what happened on the play.
“The puck just kinda bounced off the boards in the neutral zone. I went to play it, and I’m not even sure who it was, but when they came in they finished their check from the side and I hit my head from an angle. I just didn’t feel great after that; kinda got my bell rung a little bit.
“It felt good the next day, but just as a precaution the training staff thought it would be better to take a little time. With those injuries you never know sometimes, they don’t pronounce themselves right away and they come back to haunt you. They were careful, and I feel good now, ready to roll.”
In addition to the two other lines: Jochen Hecht will center Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville; and rookie Zack Kassian will ride shotgun with Nathan Gerbe on a line with center Derek Roy.
INJURY UPDATES: Ruff said that Cody McCormick (upper body) has taken the next step in his recovery process, and has begun the on-ice portion of his conditioning … Mike Weber (upper body) has been skating in a non-contact role, but Ruff says he is still “a ways away.”
The Islanders come into tonight's game having scored just 41 goals for in 21 games, averaging a league-low 1.95 goals/game. They have also been shutout a league-high six times, and have scored just 14 goals in eight road games. As a comparison: Boston is the only team to play fewer road games (7) than the Islanders, but they have scored 23 goals.
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.