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POSTED ON Wednesday, 09.28.2011 / 10:14 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
The last thing Lindy Ruff expected to see in a training camp scrimmage was Patrick Kaleta being helped off the ice by the team’s medical staff. But that was the case tonight, after Kaleta took a shot to the head from Thomas Vanek as he came out of the corner with the puck. It was an out of character play for Vanek, and one that surprised Ruff as well.

“I think the obvious answer is ‘yes,’” said Ruff, when asked if the hit was too much for a practice session. “Whether Van leaned in too much, or whether Patty was coming with too much momentum … you never want anybody hurt in practice. That’s the extreme case, but he’s going to be fine.”

Ruff also provided updates on injured forwards Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy. Ruff said that Roy is close to returning, but he may be held out of Friday’s game in Washington if there’s any hesitation. Hecht saw another doctor this week, and skated on his own after tonight’s practice. Ruff said the hope is that he’ll start progressing in the next few days.

More than 1,500 fans attended the open practice that started with a full-team autograph session on the First Niagara Center concourse at 5 p.m. The players hit the ice just after 7 p.m., and ran through several drills before taking part in a brief scrimmage. For the players it was a chance to not only get on the ice at night during a week with just one game, but it also gave them an opportunity to perform in front of their home fans.

“I think it’s good for the fans to see what we do on a normal off day,” said Jordan Leopold. “We did a situational scrimmage and had about 30 minutes of practice. And we also had a chance to see the fans and interact with them. It’s a good experience for all of us.”
POSTED ON Friday, 09.23.2011 / 10:15 AM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Tonight’s line combinations vs. Toronto:
Vanek-Roy Pominville

Defensemen: Leopold, Gragnani, McNabb, Ehrhoff, Weber, Brennan

Ryan Miller will start and play the entire game. Drew MacIntyre will serve as the backup.

Colin Stuart wore #23 during his recall last season; he will wear #15 tonight.

Jordan Leopold will see his first action of the preseason tonight, and the nine-year veteran knows exactly how he wants to handle his ice time.

“Keep it simple, that’s the basic thing,” he says. “I’m just getting my feet wet after a long summer, and I’m excited to get back out there. To be able to go out and compete again is a good feeling.”

Playing three nights in a row presents a unique challenge for head coach Lindy Ruff in terms of lineup preparation, but he has already formulated a plan for the weekend.

“We’re going to give a group of six forwards back-to-back games, try and get used to the grind a little bit,” explained Ruff. “Obviously it’s different because we’re going to play four lines and the ice time will be down. In some ways I think it’s good that you get accustomed to what you’re going to deal with during the year.”

As the Buffalo Sabres took to the ice at the First Niagara Center to prepare for tonight's game in Toronto, 11 other players found out they were being assigned to the AHL's Rochester Americans.

The group consists of: forwards Riley Boychuk, Jacob Lagace, Maxime Legault, Shawn Szydlowski, Travis Turnbull and Mark Voakes; defensemen Alex Biega, Nick Crawford, Corey Fienhage and Matt MacKenzie; and goaltender Jeff Jakaitis. Of the 11, only Biega had seen any preseason action with the big club.

Rochester will open their training camp on Monday at the Blue Cross Arena.

This leaves the Sabres with 41 players still in training camp (24 forwards, 13 defensemen and four goaltenders).

POSTED ON Thursday, 09.22.2011 / 3:59 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Jochen Hecht has missed the last few days of training camp because of an injury, and head coach Lindy Ruff has already ruled him out of all three of Buffalo’s weekend games starting Friday in Toronto. Ruff said Hecht’s injury was the result of a collision with teammate Shaone Morrisonn that took place during Sunday’s second day of on-ice sessions.

“He ran into Morrisonn, cut his lip and got stitches. A little bit of it is just being precautionary here. He’ll probably be practicing in full by next week.

Ruff also revealed his goalie rotation for the weekend, saying that Ryan Miller will be the first Sabres netminder to get a full game under his belt this preseason when they visit Toronto on Friday. Ruff also said that Jhonas Enroth will play all 60 minutes at home against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.
POSTED ON Monday, 09.19.2011 / 4:02 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
With two days of training camp workouts behind them, the Buffalo Sabres take to the ice tonight at the First Niagara Center for game one of the preseason against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres will play seven preseason contests, and this is their first of five in the next seven days.

Head Coach Lindy Ruff announced this morning that Drew MacIntyre and Jhonas Enroth will split time in the Sabres net tonight, with MacIntyre getting the start. Ruff said that splitting up games isn’t the most ideal situation for a goaltender, but it’s something he has to live with during the preseason.

“With five games in seven nights, we’ll probably split the next one and kind of go every other game after that. Goalies like playing full games, they don’t like just playing half a game. I’ll discuss the preseason, the tail end of it, with both Ryan and Jhonas, and we’ll go from there.”

Ruff said that he’ll be using a group of forwards to kill penalties, but plans to rely on a pair of lines for the power play.

“We’re going to favor the players that we think are special teams players. We want to give the Leino line a real good look, and we want to give Luke Adam’s line a real good look. There may be a couple of situations where we’ll let the other lines operate. But we’re going to lay most of the ice time on those two lines in a power play sense.”

Tonight’s lines and defense pairs:

Sekera-Myers, Weber-Gragnani, Brennan-Biega
POSTED ON Friday, 09.16.2011 / 5:09 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff met with the media this morning, as the players went through on-ice testing at First Niagara Center during the first official day of training camp. Here are some of the key highlights from Ruff’s session:

On the health of the team:
“Everybody is good, we didn’t have one issue through medicals this morning.” That includes Jason Pominville, who Ruff said “skated well through the testing day.”

Discussing newcomer Ville Leino and his possible linemates:
“He’d be good with a goal scorer; he’s the type of guy who hangs on to the puck and prefers to make plays versus shooting the puck. I’d like to try him with Staff … We definitely have some good options, even throwing a guy like Brad Boyes out there with Ville.”

Talking about other possible line combinations:
“I’d like to go back to Vanek with Pominville and Roy to start with … … I love writing down stuff on paper because I can just crumple it up and throw it out. I call them paper lines because they look good on paper, but when they get on the ice, they just don’t gel.”

How he plans to manage Jhonas Enroth in the backup role:
“Part of my job is that I have to keep Jhonas ready to play. It’s easy to get him in if you’re playing four games in six nights. But again, I’m gonna make decisions that if he’s really playing well, we’ll keep him going irregardless of the fact that we have Ryan.”

Commenting on a visibly leaner and stronger Drew Stafford:
“Coming into last year, I think he got himself into exceptional shape. He went with the same program and tried to build off that. He may be a few pounds lighter, but he’s even stronger. He’s got himself where he thinks he can play at an elite level. Last year was a great year, and with a little better conditioning this year, we hope he can build on that.” Ruff said that Stafford’s physical change was very obvious – “I noticed it when he first came to town. It was one of those when the eyebrows go up.”

POSTED ON Tuesday, 09.13.2011 / 2:02 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
TRAVERSE CITY, MI --- Normally when a team hits the ice with a playoff spot already clinched, expectations are set lower than normal as players look to stay healthy for the big games ahead. But that shoudn’t be the case tonight when Buffalo faces Detroit (7 p.m.) in their last divisional game of the NHL Prospect Tournament. By virtue of consecutive 6-3 victories in their first two games, the Sabres have already locked up first place in the Howe Division. They will now face the Gretzky Division champion New York Rangers in tomorrow’s winner-take-all championship game at 7 p.m.

But try telling the players that tonight’s game is meaningless. NHL careers are on the line for most, while some of the free agent participants are just looking to get the attention of one of the hundreds of GM’s and scouts that have traveled to the two-rink Centre ICE complex, nestled in the back corner of a quiet Traverse City subdivision.

This is the 14th year of the NHL Prospect Tournament, and 297 players that have played here in Traverse City have gone on to the NHL. Carolina’s Jeff Skinner was here last season, and he wound up being named the NHL’s 2010-11 Rookie of the Year with 63 points in 82 games.

Skinner isn’t the only big name to have participated in Traverse City since its inception in 1998. New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk played here as an Atlanta Thrashers prospect in 2001, and he is now the tournament’s all-time NHL points leader with 642 (338+304) in 621 NHL games. Dany Heatley joined Kovalchuk on that 2001 Atlanta prospect squad, and his 625 points are second all-time among former participants.  

Former Sabre J.P. Dumont has played the most NHL games of any former Traverse City participant, skating in 752 combined contests during his 12-year NHL career with Chicago, Buffalo and Nashville. Dumont played with Chicago’s entry in the inaugural 1998 tournament.

The big names don’t stop there. Detroit superstars Pavel Datsyuk (2001) and Henrik Zetterberg (2002) have also skated here, along with Scott Hartnell (Nashville, 2000), David Legwand (Nashville, 1998) and Martin Erat (Nashville, 2000/01). Twelve former prospect tournament players have gone on to play 500 or more NHL games, while another 46 have played in 250-499 games.

There will be a new champion this year, as the 2010 winners from Minnesota are just 1-1 through their first two games. The New York Rangers – Buffalo’s opposition in tomorrow’s final – captured the 2007 title. There have been eight different winners in the first 13 years, with St. Louis owning a record four championships (1999-2001, 2004). Ironically, the host Detroit Red Wings have yet to win their own event.
POSTED ON Tuesday, 08.30.2011 / 4:12 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Greetings from my spacious cubicle on the suite level of First Niagara Center. Still trying to get used to the name, but I like how it sounds. The First Niagara colors are a perfect fit with the Sabres, and I’m looking forward to seeing them incorporated with everything in the building.

Just wanted to pass along a few things to you this week as we head towards the final weekend of summer:

Jerome Gauthier-Leduc (Photo: Getty Images)
-You may have noticed that it’s already “game on!” in the Canadian Hockey League. The QMJHL kicked off their pre-season schedule on August 19, and they’ll drop the puck tonight in Swift Current, Sask., to open the WHL exhibition season. The OHL gets their pre-season underway this Friday in London, Ont. Why so early you ask? According to CHL commissioner David Branch, it’s all about getting the players settled in their respective cities before the school year begins.

“The main factor for CHL teams starting early is to accommodate the academic interests of our players,” Branch explained in an email to me last night. “High school commences after Labor Day in most instances for the WHL and OHL, and earlier in Quebec. That is the reason their camps started over one week ago.”

Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Buffalo’s third-round selection in the 2010 Entry Draft, already has four points (1+3) and is a plus-4 in three games for the Rimouski Oceanic. Three of Gauthier-Leduc’s four points came in a 4-3 win over Baie-Comeau last Saturday when he tallied a goal and two assists.

New 100 level countertops
New 100 level signage
-Arena renovations continue to move along at a breakneck speed. They are aiming to have all the redesigned concession stands ready for the Keith Urban concert on September 8, and any other smaller projects completed in time for hockey season.

Here are two photos I took today while wandering the concourse. The first shows the new stainless steel countertops on the freshly-painted blue and gold pillars in the 100 Level (ignore the red paint; that will be replaced by gold).

The other features the new lettering on the satellite Sabres Store location next to section 101. Another project that they are hoping to have completed in time for the regular season is the addition of beverage shelves and TV’s in the bathrooms.

-An announcement of Buffalo’s roster for the Traverse City Prospects Tournament is expected to be made in the next few days. I’ll be on hand in Michigan for all five days of the tournament, providing daily features and in-game Twitter updates. Keep watching Sabres.com for more information. The Sabres open the tournament against Minnesota on Saturday, September 10 at 3:30 p.m.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 08.24.2011 / 12:03 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Ask any Sabres fan where the team will finish this year, and their answer usually includes the words “Stanley” and “Cup.” However, it doesn’t appear that our friends at The Hockey News agree.

In their annual Yearbook issue, THN writers predict the Sabres will finish fifth in the Eastern Conference – behind Washington, Pittsburgh, Boston and Philadelphia. The Capitals are also THN’s choice to win Stanley Cup this season. Chicago is predicted to be the Western Conference Cup representative, but Vancouver is their choice to finish first in the West during the regular season.

Before you start firing off hate mail to the THN editors, keep in mind their 2010-11 regular season predictions were almost on the money. They had both conference winners (Washington and Vancouver); nailed the top three finishers in order out West; correctly picked seven Eastern Conference playoff teams, and six in the West.

Derek Roy
The Hockey News has also released their “Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide,” which features player analysis and individual point projections for those of us who dabble in hockey pools. (Full disclosure: I don’t just dabble in a hockey pool, I dive in head first. I’ve been in a 12-team keeper league for the last decade with team owners spread across North America. Our league format is so complex we can’t find an online service to run it. Our scoring is tabulated every day using an Excel spreadsheet and NHL.com stats.)

Derek Roy is projected by THN to rebound from his quad injury to lead the Sabres in scoring with 70 points, just ah ead of Thomas Vanek (69), Jason Pominville (63), Ville Leino (60) and Tyler Ennis (58). While those numbers all seem low to me, I was even more surprised their projection of a 48-point season for Drew Stafford. I’m convinced he’s a lock for at least 35 goals and 65-70 points this season.

Former Sabre Brad May was announced as one of seven hockey players to compete in season three of CBC’s Battle of the Blades. The show features former NHL’ers paired with world-class figure skaters in a competition that has become wildly popular with Canadian viewers. If you haven’t seen it, think of it as Dancing with the Stars on ice. This season’s roster also includes Bryan Berard and Wade Belak. I’ve had a chance to see a few episodes in previous seasons and it’s very addicting. Why this hasn’t been picked up by a US network is beyond me.

Finally, watch for details of a live chat with Sabres President Ted Black next week on sabres.com. He’s got plenty to talk about, including some of the latest arena renovation news.

POSTED ON Tuesday, 08.16.2011 / 3:34 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
With the start of training camp now less a month away, I’m slowly starting to get back into hockey mode. Much of that is because my daughter’s travel team has had a few summer practices, and the chill of the rink has started to creep back into my veins. That’s a refreshing change from the paint fumes and dust that have permeated the air here at HSBC Arena throughout the summer during all the construction. My favorite part of the renovations so far? The blue and gold paint job on the walls inside the arena bowl.

While monitoring the questions and comments at our @Sabresdotcom Twitter feed, it’s become pretty apparent to me that many Sabres fans have a year round case of hockey fever. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Rather than use this space to talk hockey of the on-ice variety, I’ll get you up to speed with many of the offseason happenings that you’ve been asking about.

-If you need a hockey fix, the 10th annual Street HockeyFest takes place takes place this weekend on the streets surrounding HSBC Arena. What started out with 20 teams invading Chippewa St. in 2002, has now grown to almost 200 teams participating over two days. The tournament is open to boys and girls ages 5-17 at a cost of $125 per team. Each team will consist of up to five players and will be guaranteed at least three games in the all-day, rain or shine event. There will also be a tent sale on the HSBC Arena floor during day one of the tournament, featuring a wide array of unique new and used items from HSBC Arena.

-There’s still time to get your tickets for the SabreKidz Club Summer Picnic this Thursday at Coca-Cola Field. The event gets underway at 5:30 p.m. in the party tent area prior to the game between the Buffalo Bisons and Toledo Mud Hens. For more information on becoming a KidzClub member and attending the picnic, call (716) 855-4486.

-Many of you have been inquiring about PuckDrop festivities that have taken place at the arena on the first day of training camp. Because of arena availability issues on Saturday, September 17, that event and the adult street hockeyfest won’t be happening this year. We will however be hosting an open night practice during training camp, and have planned some special activities for the second home preseason game against Toronto on Saturday, September 24. More details on both events will be announced soon.

-Tickets for the two preseason games go on sale Monday, August 29 at 10 a.m. Individual game tickets for the 2011-12 regular season go on sale September 17 at 9 a.m. Don’t forget that mini packs are already on sale. Fans can save up to 10% or up to $24 per game if they purchase by this date. After Aug. 30, mini-pack holders will receive a $2 savings per ticket off window prices. Check sabres.com for all your individual and mini-pack pricing options.

-Sabres prospects will be taking part in the 2011 Traverse City Rookie Tournament from September 9-14. Buffalo has been placed in the Howe Division along with Minnesota, Columbus and Detroit. (Buffalo’s roster will be announced closer to the camp.) They will face each team in their division once, with the tournament culminating in a day of playoff games on September 14. Buffalo’s games will not be televised.

-Finally, thanks to all of you that have been voting in our Plays of the Year feature at sabres.com. I have no say in the final outcome, but think that Tyler Ennis’ bottle-popper against Ottawa on March 13 should be the runaway winner. Watch it again and I’m sure you’ll agree.
POSTED ON Monday, 08.15.2011 / 3:27 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com / BEYOND THE BOARDS
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The Sabres are trailing Pittsburgh 3-1 late in the third period, and Sidney Crosby gets called for hooking. During the delayed call, Thomas Vanek rifles home a slapshot to get the Sabres within one. With Crosby now in the box for hooking, Buffalo scores 30 seconds into the man advantage to tie the game. Then with seconds ticking off Crosby’s penalty, Ville Leino bangs home a rebound in the slot and suddenly the Sabres are up 4-3. 

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s one of the rule scenarios being presented at the NHL’s second annual Research, Development and Orientation Camp this Wednesday and Thursday in Toronto. More than 30 of the top prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft will scrimmage under the proposed rule changes, new strategies and rink modifications in a setting that closely approximates NHL game play. The players will also participate in a SuperSkills competition using the same events that were introduced at the 2011 All-Star Weekend in Carolina, as the NHL continues to evaluate the “entertainment factor” of its showcase weekend.

Included among the proposed changes scheduled to be tested over the two-day camp are: no-touch icing; no line changes for team committing an offside; all penalties served in their entirety; variations on the shootout; removing the trapezoid; and allowing hand passes in all zones. The league will also look at some other technological and rink modifications, including on-ice wireless communication between the referees, and additional cameras in arenas to allow for better television coverage with angles closer to the ice.

Of all the changes being presented, I’m most intrigued by having penalties served in their entirety. - Kevin Snow
 While I’ve always been in favor of no-touch icing simply from the standpoint of keeping the game moving, forcing a team to play shorthanded for the entire two minutes is just the kind of instant offensive injection the league has been looking for.

As the rule stands now, a goal scored during a delayed penalty call nullifies the power play. Under the proposed change, a team can score during the delayed call AND still have two full minutes of power play time. Some would argue this change would only be beneficial to teams with strong power plays. You can also look at it this way (as I was reminded earlier today): teams that don’t score as often on the power play are still given two full minutes with an extra attacker.

Serving the full two minutes of a penalty previously existed in the NHL, but was amended prior to the 1956-57 season. It was dubbed the “Montreal Canadiens Rule” by hockey historians because of the team’s proficiency on the power play, and their ability to score more than once on the same penalty.

As detailed by Iain Fyffe of Hockey Prospectus, the Canadiens scored nine extra power play goals in the 1955-56 season, while only one team managed to score twice on the same power play against Montreal. It is widely believed that the events of November 5, 1955 are what prompted many people to call for the rule change.

Boston had a 2-0 lead on Montreal at the end of the first period. Already down a man thanks to a Cal Gardner minor with 10 seconds left in the first, Boston’s Hal Laycoe gave Montreal a 5-on-3 advantage with another penalty just 16 seconds into the second period. What followed was nothing short of remarkable. Montreal’s Jean Beliveau scored a natural hat trick in just 44 seconds as the Canadiens turned a two-goal deficit into a one-goal lead during a single power play. Beliveau added a fourth goal later in the game to cap off a 4-2 win. Later that year the NHL voted 5-1 in favor of changing the rule – with Montreal naturally being the only dissenting vote.