MORNING SKATE LINES
- Ryan Miller will start in goal tonight.
- Patrick Kaleta is back in the lineup tonight after missing 8 games with lower body injury
- All seven defensemen will dress for warm-ups; no decision on tonight’s scratches yet.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING THIS MORNING:
Lindy Ruff (click to hear full audio)
What does it mean to have Kaleta back on special teams?
I think that leadoff pair of Gaustad and Kaleta killing penalties was very good. We’ve thrown some other guys in that situation, and we’ve worked hard with them. But at the same time, there are responsibilities when a player is out that you miss.
When did he start showing improvement in that role?
At the start of summer, we said this is the one area we want you involved with. His skating ability, his willingness to be in the lane and block shots; he’s taken a few that have hurt him. He really started to understand what other teams are trying to do, and he stays in the right lane and is aggressive when he needs to be.
TORONTO – At this time last year, Drew Stafford had nine goals in 20 games, his playing time limited due to a pair of injuries that kept him out of a combined 15 games. This season he has only scored six times in 32 games, and his frustration level has gone from a simmer to a slow boil. It was never more evident than last night in Ottawa when he passed to Derek Roy during a two-on-one, instead of taking the wide open shot from the slot.
“He said to me ‘I don’t know why I didn’t shoot it,’” Ruff said afterwards. “He lacks some confidence when it comes to scoring, and he’s passed up some good opportunities. His frustration level is pretty high. I said ‘those are situations you wouldn’t normally pass up; you know you’re a shooter.’ I think when things go well, it’s automatic. When things aren’t going well, you second-guess yourself.”
Stafford knows exactly what it feels like when things are going well. After his slow start last season, he exploded for 22 goals in the final 42 games, including a four-game run that saw him light the lamp eight times on just 13 shots. Plays like the one he made last night are the things he’d like to eliminate from his game right now.
“I’m kind of searching for some goals here, and it’s one of the plays that you’d like to have back,” he explained. “I can’t do anything about it now, but next time I’d like to put it in the back of the net.
“It’s one of those things where I thought I could maybe make a little pass to Derek, instead of just going straight down, driving and finding a hole to put it in. I can’t do anything about it now, but I’ll work to get in that position again and pull the trigger.”
Thomas Vanek and Paul Szczechura were given today off to rest their bumps and bruises, but Ruff expects both to be ready for Thursday’s game here against the Maple Leafs. Ruff also said Patrick Kaleta is a go for Thursday, but likely not Brad Boyes. In the case of Boyes, Ruff said “it’s a gamble” because he hasn’t had enough time to prepare himself with the down-low battle drills that will really put his injured ankle to the test. It seems more likely that Boyes will take the Christmas break to ready himself for Monday’s home game against Washington.
In other injury updates: Tyler Myers (wrist) is skating with the team but not in a full-contact role … Nathan Gerbe (concussion) has been skating on his own the last two days back in Buffalo … Tyler Ennis (ankle) is traveling with the team, but was kept off the ice again today as a precautionary measure … Corey Tropp (concussion) is still not feeling well, and hasn’t skated since being injured against Florida on December 9.
- Ryan Miller will start in goal tonight.
- Thomas Vanek got through the morning skate without any issues and is expected to play
- Marcus Foligno and Derek Whitmore will make their NHL debuts
- Patrick Kaleta and Brad Boyes both skated today but will not be in the lineup tonight
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING THIS MORNING:
Lindy Ruff (click to hear full audio)
Did you have to explain to Marcus what you expect from him tonight?
I think he understands his game; it’s based on being physical. He’s got good hands, he can get the puck to the net. We can use a big body around the net. I think getting in on the forecheck and disrupting Ottawa’s defensemen, that’ll be the key to his game.
What do you think this night means to Marcus and his entire family?
The family as a whole has gone through some tough times in recent years. To have Marcus play against Nick, and for Mike to be here… Mike is a former teammate of mine, and he’s a helluva guy. I think both kids are great kids. It’s a great family. For both his boys to be able to play in the NHL, you’ve gotta be one proud father. I think he’s going to be smiling from ear to ear.
Would you be disappointed if Marcus doesn’t do the leap when he scores his first goal?
I didn’t really think of that. If Marcus scores, I’ll do the leap. Put the camera on the bench boys.
Marcus Foligno (click to hear full audio)
Is it a bit surreal to have your dad here for the game AND you are playing your brother’s team?
It’s important to have family here, and it’s good that it’s in Ottawa because it’s close to everyone who can make it tonight. Nick is excited; I think he’s a little more excited than I am. It’s gonna be fun.
Have you thought about your first goal and what your celebration might be?
People want me to do the jump so I’m gonna have to do it. Right now I’m just focused on playing well, and playing how the team wants me to play. If it does happen, then good on me. But I’m just excited to get my first NHL game out of the way.
Derek Whitmore (click to hear full audio)
What does it mean for you to be able to put the Sabres uniform on tonight?
It definitely means a lot. This year has been really good so far. It means a lot to wear the Rochester Americans jersey being from Rochester. But at the same time, Buffalo was my team as a kid growing up. I remember playing a couple of Pee Wee hockey games back at Marine Midland Arena, and just wondering one day if I’ll ever be able to play in the NHL let alone play for the Buffalo Sabres. It’s definitely a dream come true and I’m looking forward to it.
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.