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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 4:05 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS

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:

In explaining the suspension, Shanahan said “it is the attacking player’s responsibility to make a better effort not to crash into the opposing goaltender … the goaltender must feel protected in his crease.” He agreed with the charging major and misconduct called on the play, but applied the supplemental discipline “because of the force of the collision and the lack of any significant interference steering Tootoo into the goaltender.”

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. 

POSTED ON Monday, 12.05.2011 / 4:18 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS

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.”

Without further delay, here is your daily Sabres medical update:
  • 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.”
POSTED ON Friday, 12.02.2011 / 12:37 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

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.


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.

POSTED ON Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 3:53 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS

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.

“I didn’t know it right away, but when I took my glove off at the end of the shift, my fingers were completely white,” he told John Walton of last season. “It was scary. I’d never seen anything like it before.”

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. 
POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 12:27 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

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. 
POSTED ON Friday, 11.25.2011 / 1:53 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

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.

But the Kassian who will make his NHL debut tonight in Columbus is vastly different than the one who physically dominated the Ontario Hockey League for four eventful seasons. In his first pro season with Rochester, Kassian leads the Amerks in scoring with 14 points (7+7) in 18 games. Most notably, he only has 17 penalty minutes – and 15 of those came in one game against Grand Rapids on October 16.

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.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 11.23.2011 / 12:56 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

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.”


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.

POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.22.2011 / 4:59 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS

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.”

Hecht had appeared to be making progress a couple of times earlier this season but was forced to shut it down because of post-workout headaches - most notably during the team’s trip to Germany. He credits a recent week off and a change in his treatments to the speedier recovery process this time around. He admits the last few weeks have been difficult at times.

“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.
POSTED ON Friday, 11.18.2011 / 2:43 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

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.

“I was pretty relieved. You never want to get suspended,” said Myers. “Brendan Shanahan called me yesterday, and we had a conversation about the hit. He wanted to discuss what my thoughts were on it. I can really tell that he’s trying to inform all the players what’s an illegal hit and what is a legal hit. There’s a thin line, and I know it’s pretty tough. But it was a good conversation.

“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.
POSTED ON Wednesday, 11.16.2011 / 12:46 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

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)

Myers is glad his time in the press box only lasted one game, and he’s ready to make sure it never happens again.

“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.

Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain) continues to skate with the team at practice, but was today placed on Injured Reserve. Lindy Ruff said Ennis still has to clear a few more hurdles before getting back into game action.

“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.”