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POSTED ON Friday, 11.04.2011 / 12:54 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

Patrick Kaleta was one of the last players off the ice at today’s optional morning skate, and that’s likely going to be his routine for the next week. Kaleta was handed a four-game suspension by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan yesterday for his head-butt on Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek at 4:58 of the first period in Wednesday’s game. He’s not eligible to return to the Sabres lineup until November 12 in Boston.

While Kaleta contends that he was simply trying to “push the guy off the puck,” he knows that he can’t let it affect his preparation.

“It’s obviously disappointing I can’t be out there with my teammates,” said Kaleta. “It is what it is. I’m going to do everything I can to take the positive out of it: get my body back 100 per cent, go over video, and just be prepared for when I get back so that I’m flying and don’t miss a beat.”

Kaleta also said the 20-minute conversation with Shanahan included a revelation that he can take with him going forward.

“(Shanahan) has watched a couple of our games and said he’s noticed a change in me, which is good. I’m taking positives out of that, and I’ll keep working at it … I’m trying to become a different hockey player.”

Lindy Ruff also expressed his disappointment in having Kaleta forced out of his lineup for the next four games, but realizes that it’s part of the league’s movement to eliminate hits to the head.

“I understand there’s a new standard. Pat’s been playing hard. He’s really worked hard at trying to tone down aspects of his game. At the same point, I understand that a line has gone up. When you go above that and have a reputation with previous incidents, the punishment could be stiffer.”

With Kaleta out of the lineup for a week, the Sabres made the call to Rochester for Corey Tropp to fill his spot on the right side. The 23-year-old Tropp will make his NHL debut tonight against Calgary, after being told yesterday morning he could be getting the call to the big club. He then had to play the waiting game for few hours to get a final answer.

“The team was leaving was at 2 p.m. for Binghamton and I was told to stay back and have my phone on me,” explained Tropp. “If (Kaleta) wasn’t suspended, I would have to drive myself to Binghamton. If he wasn’t, I was driving to Buffalo. Obviously when I got the call it was really exciting, and I’m just happy to be here so far.”

Tropp has seven points (4+3) in 10 games with the Amerks this season, and is tied for the team lead in goals. A native of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Tropp collected 40 points in 76 games in Portland last season, after playing the previous three years at Michigan State. Tropp was selected in the third round (89th overall) by the Sabres in the 2007 Entry Draft.

A gritty winger who can also find the back of the net, Tropp scored once in three preseason games for the Sabres this fall after an impressive week at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament where he scored the game winner in Buffalo’s championship win over the New York Rangers.

Ruff said his message to Tropp was a simple one.

“I told him I wanted him to score. I told him I wanted him to defend really well. And I told him if he got in a fight, throw ‘em with both hands.”

Jhonas Enroth
  • Jhonas Enroth is expected to get the start in goal for Buffalo tonight, after stopping all 15 shots he faced in relief of Ryan Miller on Wednesday. Enroth said it doesn’t matter if he faces a team from the Eastern or Western Conference, his preparation is always the same.

“It’s a hockey game. I just go out there and play.”
POSTED ON Thursday, 11.03.2011 / 4:45 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS

If any of the Calgary Flames are looking for bulletin board material from former teammate Robyn Regehr, they are out of luck. After playing in Western Canada for the first 11 years of his NHL career, Regehr played it safe when asked if it would be extra special to beat his former team tomorrow night at First Niagara Center.

Click here to listen to Regehr's entire interview with the media.

The 31-year-old Regehr joined the Sabres on June 25 along with Ales Kotalik and a 2012 second-round draft pick in a trade that saw Paul Byron and Chris Butler go west. Originally drafted 19th overall by Colorado in 1998, Regehr had 163 points (29+164) in 826 games with the Flames from 1999-2011.

“I’d love to beat any team. But especially when you’re playing a team that you’ve played with for a long time, the first time you play them you’ll want to beat them. Anytime we go out there, it doesn’t matter against who - we want to win the game. That’s the ultimate goal.”

At 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds Regehr was acquired to add some sandpaper to the Sabres blueline. He’s done that in spades so far, leading the Sabres in hits with 31 through 11 games. But he is also being counted on for his veteran presence, and that’s something the team could use right now as they try to rebound from a 1-3-0 start to their season-high five-game homestand that concludes Friday.

“We need to play a game a certain way, and we need to do it every single time we’re out there. If we do that, things will take care of themselves.”

Patrick Kaleta received a four-game suspension from the NHL today for his head-butt on Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek at 4:58 of the first period in Wednesday’s game. Kaleta will also forfeit $19,621.64 in salary. He is eligible to return to the Sabres lineup on November 12 in Boston.

The Flames are last in the Northwest Division – and 14th overall in the Western Conference – with a 4-5-1 record through 10 games. They open up a three-game road trip tonight in Detroit, and conclude Sunday in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche. Miikka Kiprusoff is 4-4-0 on the season with a 2.50 GAA and .913 save percentage. He played only two periods in his last start, surrendering five goals on 18 shots in a 5-1 loss to Vancouver. No Flames skater has reached double digits in points yet, with Alex Tanguay leading the way with nine points (2+7) in 10 games. Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has just four points (2+2) in 10 games.

Friday’s game is one of the 10 times this season the Sabres will come off a rest day against a team playing its second game in a row.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 11.02.2011 / 12:19 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE

Mike Weber returns to the ice tonight, replacing Marc-Andre Gragnani in the Sabres lineup when they host the Philadelphia Flyers at First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., Versus). It will be the first game action of the season for Weber who has been a healthy scratch in Buffalo’s first 10 contests.

“I’m not too nervous,” says Weber about getting back in the lineup. “I did play 58 of them last year. I’m just excited to get going and start my season."

Weber had 17 points (4+13) in 58 games for the Sabres in 2010-11, and led the team in hits with 158. He skated almost 17 minutes a game, and finished second on the team with a plus-13 rating. Weber’s minutes increased as the season wore on, including a three-game stretch in late March when he averaged almost 24 minutes a night.

This all came after he sat out Buffalo’s first nine games of last season. Having gone through it before, Weber said it helped him deal with being in the press box for the first 10 games of this season.

“It didn’t kill me. It’s kind of a character builder when you sit out, mentally and physically. Having to do all the extra work, and mentally dealing with being out of the lineup. I think it’s made me a stronger person, and a stronger player. I want to take full advantage of it.”

While head coach Lindy Ruff believes that Weber’s style is perfectly suited for tonight’s opponent, there was a more underlying reason to get him into this game.

“The bottom line is I need him to play, before he gets so frustrated that we lose him,” said Ruff. “And that’s the bottom line. He’s worked hard. A player gets to a point where you have to get him in.

“He was an important part of our team (last year). He played good minutes, and he played hard. They’ve got some players we’d like to play hard against, so this game is a good fit for him.”

Ryan Miller is expected to get the start in net for Buffalo. Tyler Ennis remains out week-to-week with an ankle sprain, and Jochen Hecht is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms .... The Flyers will be without former Sabre Danny Briere who is nursing an upper body injury. Chris Pronger (eye) and Matt Read (upper body) are also on the mend for Philadelphia.

POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.01.2011 / 4:19 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS

A lot has changed since we last saw the Philadelphia Flyers in Buffalo. Not only has the arena name since changed, but the Flyers’ overtime villain in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is now wearing blue and gold. But don’t let Ville Leino’s stone-faced expression fool you: he doesn’t want to see his old employers leave First Niagara Center with two points on Wednesday night.

“I think it’s going to give me an extra boost,” said Leino, who will be centering Buffalo’s top line between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville for the first time this season. “You want to show against your old team that you’re a good player, and you want to play good against the guys you know and the whole organization.”

Leino’s departure for Buffalo as a free agent was just a small part of Philadelphia’s extreme makeover: offseason edition. The Flyers jettisoned veterans Mike Richards (LA) and Jeff Carter (Columbus) in a pair of trades, and acquired netminder Ilya Bryzgalov from Phoenix in an attempt to put an end to the team’s goaltending carousel. Oh yeah, they also signed some free agent by the name of Jaromir Jagr. The name may ring a bell.

Has it helped? The Flyers come into Buffalo with a 6-4-1 record, having lost two of their last three games -- highlighted by a wacky 9-8 loss to Winnipeg last Thursday. Jagr is second in team scoring with 11 points in 11 games, including seven (5+2) in his last four. Byrzgalov is a very ordinary 4-4-1 with a 3.16 GAA and .880 save percentage, and made headlines with his candid post-game comments to the Philadelphia media after allowing four goals on 10 shots against Winnipeg.

But the common denominator to the Flyers’ struggles as of late could simply be the absence of rugged blueliner Chris Pronger, who suffered a scary injury last week when he was struck in the right eye by the stick of Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski. Pronger dropped to the ice immediately and could clearly be heard screaming as he was rushed off the ice. There was no long-term damage done to the eye, but Pronger has yet to resume skating. He was placed on injured reserve earlier today.
Chris Pronger (Getty Images)

Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff knows what a player like Pronger means to the Flyers entire lineup.

“He’s a big piece for them. They were going good when he was in there, and they’ve struggled a little bit with him out. He’s been a good player in this league and I think they miss him. I’ve seen the goals go up when he’s out, and I’ve seen the goals go down when he’s in.

Ruff has obviously done his homework on this. The Flyers are 4-2-1 with Pronger in the lineup this season, and 1-2-0 since he’s been injured. They averaged 3.85 goals for in the first seven games, while allowing just an average of 3. Those numbers jump dramatically in the last three games -- 4.67 GF/5 GA -- but they are skewed by the loss to Winnipeg.

Much of today’s practice was spent working on the power play, including Derek Roy manning the point on the first unit in Marc-Andre Gragnani’s usual spot.

“We used the same three up front. Derek was back there for a period of time last year so we’ll see what he can do.”

With Gragnani being moved off the power play, Ruff wouldn’t tip has hand as to whether this would see Mike Weber inserted into the Sabres lineup tomorrow for his first game action of the season.

POSTED ON Monday, 10.31.2011 / 3:54 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS

Today’s practice at First Niagara Center was neither a trick nor a treat for the Buffalo Sabres. It was the first opportunity for Lindy Ruff to put his troops through a workout since Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Florida, and Ruff didn’t let a minute of the high-tempo 60-minute practice go to waste.

“That might have been one of the toughest practices we’ve had in a couple of years,” said Ruff, who was very vocal throughout practice. “I said the other night it wasn’t acceptable – how we acted and how we played. It’s not acceptable. I said that if you’re going to play like that, we’ll practice even harder. That’s just part of coaching.”

Ruff emphasized the Sabres need to put forth a more consistent effort for all 60 minutes, not just pockets within the game. He reminded the players of that several times today.

“You can go five or six minutes and play really well. Then we’ve done some things that have kind of hurt ourselves and we get on our heels. I don’t think we’ve been the team we were that started the year, and we’re just trying to get back to that.”

Nobody was caught off guard by the tone of today’s practice, especially captain Jason Pominville.

“We kind of expected it. There’s a couple of days before our next game. Coming off a day off, and let’s be honest, a pretty poor effort on our part, I think we needed to get back to basics. That comes with hard work and compete.”
Pominville said that Ruff’s message was received loud and clear.

“I think that’s what we needed. We had a good meeting (prior to practice) and saw some things that we needed to work on. Part of today was about hard work and being better with the puck. Maybe an up-beat, up-tempo practice is what you need. At the end of the day, it should be good for us.”

Ruff tinkered with the lines on Saturday night, and he did more of the same today. The most obvious change has Ville Leino moving between Pominville and Thomas Vanek, with Luke Adam now on a line with Drew Stafford and Derek Roy. Ruff said the move isn’t a knock on Adam; it’s more of an attempt to get Leino on track offensively while playing with the team’s top two scorers. Ruff also wouldn’t commit to Adam or Roy playing center, saying they could both see time at the pivot.

Jochen Hecht didn’t take part in today’s practice, and Ruff didn’t sound too confident when discussing his long-term prognosis.

“He wasn’t doing so well. It’s probably the first time in this process that I’m starting to get concerned.”
POSTED ON Saturday, 10.29.2011 / 11:56 AM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE
Lindy Ruff didn’t pull any punches regarding his team’s defensive play on Thursday, when they gave up 33 shots to Columbus during the first 40 minutes of action.

“That was a loosely contested game on our part,” Ruff said following the game. “To give up the number of shots that we did, to make some of the plays that we made. We made a lot of poor decisions. It might be as bad as we’ve moved the puck from defense to forward this year. It just tells you that if you don’t play well you’re not going to win unless you get tremendous goaltending.”

Columbus picked up 10 more shots in the third period for a season-high total of 43 shots against for the Sabres. It was the second time in the past five games that an opponent has eclipsed the 40-shot plateau in a game; and the sixth time in nine games this season that the Sabres have been outshot. Last year the Sabres only allowed 40 or more shots in a game on four different occasions.

Despite the shot disparity, the Sabres have won a league-high five games this season when being outshot in a game (along with Dallas and Los Angeles). Defenseman Andrej Sekera knows the team needs to do a better job of keeping shot totals down, and that starts with sticking to their defensive game plan.

“We didn’t play the system as we should, and it showed on the scoresheet with the shots,” Sekera said after today’s optional morning skate. “Everybody was a little later, a step behind, and that opened up space for (Columbus). We need to be more focused today.”

Sekera said there still may be a learning curve to the system with some of the newcomers, but he’s not about to use that as an excuse.

“I think we’re still getting used to each other. But it’s not just the defense; we’re a five man group out there. If the forwards take out the lanes, sometimes a shot will get through. We have to do a better job as the five-man group, not just the two of us.”

Buffalo defeated Florida 3-0 last Thursday at Bank Atlantic Center, but they have since added Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm following a trade that sent David Booth to Vancouver a week ago today. Even without the two new veterans in the lineup, Sekera said he noticed a different look to the Panthers from previous years.

“They have good speed and a good work ethic. They play a simple north-south game. And they are shooting from everywhere, and getting people in front of the net. That’s how you score nowadays: shoot the puck and get traffic in front. We have to prevent them from doing that.”

Ryan Miller is expected to get the start in net for Buffalo tonight against the Panthers (7 p.m., MSG). No other lineup changes are expected, as just 13 players took part in today’s optional morning skate.
POSTED ON Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 12:52 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE
Buffalo comes into tonight’s game having won just four of 12 all-time meetings with the Columbus Blue Jackets. But they are one of the few Western Conference teams that the Sabres seem to struggle with. Since 2005-06, Buffalo’s record of 47-30-9 (.599) against the Western Conference is second only to Pittsburgh’s 48-30-10 (.606) for the best record in the East. San Jose’s mark of 57-23-6 (.698) tops all NHL teams against the opposing conference. Somewhat surprisingly, Columbus is sixth overall during this same time frame with a record of 47-29-9 against Eastern opponents.

Even if you only face a team once or twice a year, all the video that’s used by players and coaches nowadays has pretty much eliminated the surprise factor when facing an unfamiliar foe.

“As players you’re not as familiar with the individuals as you would be with a team that you face five or six times a year,” explains defenseman Robyn Regehr. “But with everything that’s available now in terms of video and pre-scouting tools, you’re pretty much aware of a team’s systems and their tendencies before the game even starts.”

Before joining the Sabres in a trade this past June, Regehr had played his entire 12-year career out west with the Calgary Flames. They’ve also had a tremendous amount success against the East since the 2005-06 season, compiling a record of 46-28-14 (.603) – good for seventh in the NHL. Regehr said that getting off to a good start is the key to success both home and away no matter who you are facing, but the Flames had their own reasons for wanting to get the jump on the visiting team in Calgary.

“When we were playing an Eastern team at home, you always wanted to get on them early because of Calgary being a little higher in altitude – not quite as bad as Colorado – teams could still feel the thin air a little bit when coming in there. A good start was always the key to the game.

“But when we were out on the road against the East, we always wanted to get off to as good a start as possible. This was simply for the reason that when you look at the stats throughout the season, usually the team that is playing with the lead, the percentages of them winning the game are much higher than coming from behind.”

Jhonas Enroth is expected to get his second start of the season for Buffalo tonight. In his only previous start, the 23-year-old Swede turned away 29 shots in a 3-2 win at Pittsburgh. Enroth is 1-0-0 all-time against Columbus, earning the win in 29 minutes of action (12 saves/15 shots) at Nationwide Arena in Buffalo’s final game last season.

The Blue Jackets enter First Niagara Center with a record of 1-7-1, just having won their first game of the season against Detroit on Tuesday. Lindy Ruff said the Sabres can’t look past Columbus regardless of their early season struggles.

“On any given night, if you’re not playing well you can get beat by anybody,” Ruff explained. “If you look back to the Ottawa game, it was a game that slipped away for them in the last minute that they should’ve won. I think they’ve got it back on track, and we’re going to have our hands full. They’ve got some elite players that can hurt you.”
POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 3:04 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Is goal scoring up or down through the first three weeks of the season? League wide it has dropped, but not to the extent that some may think. Using October 25 as the benchmark date for the past two seasons:

2010-11 (116 GP)
Eastern Conference: 318 goals for (2.74/game)
Western Conference: 322 goals for (2.78/game)

League Total: 640 goals for (5.52/game)

2011-12 (121 GP)
Eastern Conference: 337 goals for (2.79/game)
Western Conference: 305 goals for (2.52/game)

League Total: 642 goals for (5.31/game)

The biggest drop off is in the Western Conference where goal scoring is down .26 game, while the East has seen a bump of .05 – likely thanks to the 63 combined goals scored by Pittsburgh (33) and Washington (30) through 18 games. At this time last season, the top two Eastern teams – Tampa (27) and Pittsburgh (27) – combined to score 54 goals in 17 games.

The Sabres have scored 23 goals in the first eight games, compared to 24 in the first nine on this date last season.

Ryan Miller (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The Sabres wore their royal blue pants and helmets in practice today, in preparation for their first “third jersey” game of the season tomorrow against Columbus. They are scheduled to wear the thirds in eight games this season, including twice on the road. The eight-game schedule is as follows:
  • October 27 vs. Columbus
  • November 5 @ Ottawa
  • November 16 vs. New Jersey
  • December 3 @ Nashville
  • December 9 vs. Florida
  • January 3 vs. Edmonton
  • February 10 vs. Dallas
  • March 14 vs. Colorado
Buffalo will also wear white at home against Toronto on January 13 because the Maple Leafs will be wearing their new third jersey that night.

Be sure to log on to every game night for the live in-game blog. Tomorrow's blog will get underway at 6:45 p.m. Then when the game is over, check back for an enhanced version of the blog featuring game highlights and interviews.
POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 12:32 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE
The injury to Tyler Ennis has forced a lineup change for the Sabres, as Matt Ellis will see his first game action of the season tonight when the Sabres host Tampa Bay at the First Niagara Center. Ellis is expected to center a line with Brad Boyes on the right wing and Cody McCormick manning the port side.

10/25 - Lindy Ruff pregame 

Head coach Lindy Ruff couldn’t stop raving about Ellis’ work ethic after today’s morning skate.

“He is a consummate pro. From how hard he works, how hard he trains and has an unbelievable attitude. You could take some of his attributes, and if you could drop one or two on different players, it’d be a helluva player. That comes with the battle of trying to stay in this league too. It’s a determination that’s pretty impressive.”

Ruff said the intangibles that Ellis brings to the locker room are as important as the gritty effort Ellis gives on the ice all the time.

“That’s the reason we signed him. He’s a good leader, the kind of guy you want influencing young players. You want to have your young players around Matt Ellis so they can learn how to work. He’s a consummate pro. You don’t have to ask him to do things; he just does the right things.

Brad Boyes will play in his 500th consecutive NHL game tonight, making him just the 20th player to accomplish this feat. Boyes will also join Craig Ramsay as only the second player to reach this milestone in a Sabres uniform.

Paul Gaustad returned to practice today after missing Monday with a maintenance day to rest a muscle pull. He will center Buffalo’s grind line between Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta.
POSTED ON Monday, 10.24.2011 / 3:19 PM
By Kevin Snow - (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Tyler Ennis has become Buffalo’s first injury casualty of the season, suffering an ankle sprain on Saturday in Tampa Bay that has him listed as “week-to-week” according to head coach Lindy Ruff.

Ennis was injured just 2:15 into the game when he fell awkwardly into the net after being given a push from behind by Tampa’s Ryan Malone while driving to the Lightning goal. The second-year winger, who had been held without a point so far this season, attempted to skate on the ankle during a TV timeout before shutting it down for the night.

Ruff said that he’s already got a plan in place to replace Ennis, who scored 20 goals for the Sabres in rookie season in 2010-11

“We’ll make the adjustments. We’ve got some pieces that we’re going to switch around. There’s guys that can obviously go into that role; Ville (Leino) can go over to the left side. We’re going to try some different things.”

Lindy Ruff Interview
T. Vanek Interview
Derek Roy Interview
Ville Leino Interview
The plan already appears to be taking shape, as Leino skated in Ennis’ spot on the left wing alongside Drew Stafford and Derek Roy during today’s practice at First Niagara Center.

“Actually, Ville had mentioned that he’d like to go to the wing, so it’s funny how it works,” explained Ruff. “You’d like to find a line and keep them together, that would be the thing that you would hope most. I’d like to see Roy, Leino and Stafford play together for a while and gain some chemistry. I think that’s the most important part. It isn’t position to position, it’s leaving three individuals together for a while and they develop some chemistry.”

Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay will be just the Sabres’ second home game at First Niagara Center this season, and it also kicks off a stretch that will see them play seven of their next nine games at home. Ruff says it’s imperative they use this stretch of games to assert themselves as a difficult team to face at home.

“We really got away from our game the last home game, and we talked about that in this morning’s meeting. We need to be the team that wins the majority of the puck battles, and establish that this is going to be an awful tough building to come in to.”

Paul Gaustad also missed practice for the second time in four days, but Ruff said it was nothing more than a “maintenance day” to rest a pulled muscle.

Jochen Hecht skated on a line with Cody McCormick and Brad Boyes during practice, however Ruff was skeptical of his chances to be inserted in the lineup tomorrow for the first time this season.

“We’ll find out more today with Jochen as to whether he can play or not,” said Ruff. “Initially, I would say no.”