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POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.01.2011 / 4:19 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@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.

Leino
“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.

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POSTED ON Monday, 10.31.2011 / 3:54 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@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.”
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POSTED ON Saturday, 10.29.2011 / 11:56 AM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@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.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 12:52 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@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.

Regehr
“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.”
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 3:04 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@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 Sabres.com 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.
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 12:32 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@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.

Ellis
“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.
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POSTED ON Monday, 10.24.2011 / 3:19 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@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.”

 
ICE CHIPS PODCASTM
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.”
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POSTED ON Monday, 10.17.2011 / 4:27 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
The Buffalo Sabres are just four games into the season, but Nathan Gerbe is already months ahead of where he was at this time last year. Gerbe has four points (1+3) in the four games, highlighted by a goal and assist in Buffalo’s 3-2 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Gerbe
It was the second multi-point outing of the season for Gerbe, who didn’t pick up his fourth point last year until December 9. He was actually held off the scoresheet through Buffalo’s first six games, and had just three points in his first 11 games. He didn’t even find the back of the net until December 21 versus Anaheim. Gerbe tried not to let the early season struggles get him down.

“Sometimes you get bounces here or there,” he said today after practice. “I thought last year I played pretty well but wasn’t at the level I wanted to be at. Sometimes the points don’t follow.”

What did follow was a red hot scoring run that saw him score 16 goals in his final 44 games of the season. The Sabres were 10-1-2 when Gerbe scored a goal, and a remarkable 19-2-4 when he collected at least one point in a game. That success has carried over to his hot start this season, and Gerbe says a lot of it has to do with his mental game.

“I think it’s maybe more of a comfort level. Last year I was trying to feel it all out to see what kind of player I could be, and was maybe putting too much stress on other areas. Now I’m just going out to play, try to embrace it and have fun.”


Jhonas Enroth’s 29-save performance in Saturday’s win at Pittsburgh has earned him another start this week. Lindy Ruff confirmed today that Enroth will be between the pipes at some point during Buffalo’s three-game road trip that starts Tuesday in Montreal.

“I think there was a little surprise I used him in the Pittsburgh game. But the plan is to get him in every three or four games. That way he’ll get 20 plus games this season.”


ADDITIONAL LINKSM
Lindy Ruff Interview
Christian Ehrhoff Interview
Nathan Gerbe Interview
Derek Roy Interview
Ruff said there’s a possibility that Marc-Andre Gragnani will be scratched for Tuesday’s game in his hometown. Even though Gragnani has played the point on Buffalo’s top power play unit in each game this season, Ruff said his defensive play could force the coach’s hand.

“I thought his last game in Pittsburgh was a little bit of a tough time. We know what he provides for us, he’s made some great plays on the power play. It’s the defending that Marc still has to work on.”

Ruff said he would consider moving Derek Roy, Brad Boyes or Jordan Leopold into a more prominent role on special teams if Gragnani doesn’t play.
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POSTED ON Friday, 10.14.2011 / 11:57 AM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@kwsnow) / THE MORNING SKATE
For the 14th time in his coaching career, Lindy Ruff will step behind the bench tonight as the Sabres open up the home portion of their 2011-12 season. While last Friday’s win over Anaheim in Helsinki was technically the team’s “home” opener, Ruff knows there’s nothing like playing in front of your own fans for the first time, and he can sense there’s something special about tonight’s game.

“There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this one, coming back home after playing as well as we did overseas,” Ruff said following today’s morning skate. “I think what’s important is that we get back into the grind now. People are going to pound you, people are going to be hard on the puck. It’s not your teammates anymore like in practice. We know they played a real desperate game last time out against Boston, and we’re gonna have to match that.”


Ruff didn’t announce his starting goaltender or any lineup changes from last weekend’s wins in Europe. He did confirm yesterday that Jochen Hecht will not be available for either game this weekend. Hecht has been practicing with the team all week, but he is still recovering from a concussion he sustained in training camp.


This is the 180th all-time meeting between Buffalo and the Carolina/Hartford franchise. The Sabres lead the series 94-61-4, and are 53-28-8 at home.


Carolina’s Paul Maurice will coach his 900th career NHL game tonight, making him just the seventh coach to reach this milestone with one team. He trails only Lindy Ruff (1,068) and Nashville’s Barry Trotz (986) among active coaches in games coached with their current team.


Carolina comes into tonight’s game with a record of 1-2-1. They were winless in the first three games, before breaking that off with a 3-2 victory against Boston on Wednesday. Jeff Skinner leads the Canes with five points (1+4), but had his three-game scoring streak snapped in Wednesday’s win.
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.12.2011 / 2:45 PM
By Kevin Snow - Sabres.com (@kwsnow) / BEYOND THE BOARDS
It’s been nearly 10 months since Derek Roy suffered a torn quad tendon against Florida on December 23. The initial prognosis called for a 4-to-6 month recovery time, but Roy was able to make it back to play a limited role in Game 7 of Buffalo’s Eastern Conference Quarter-Final loss to Philadelphia.

Roy
It’s now two games into the regular season, and Roy returned from Europe with just one assist and was a minus-one in Buffalo’s wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles. Roy started training camp alongside Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, but now finds himself centering a line of Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe. Head Coach Lindy Ruff hasn’t exactly been overwhelmed with their chemistry so far.

“Overall, they’ve been okay,” said Ruff. “I don’t think Derek is quite up to speed yet. It’s gonna take a few games of really hard compete to get to that really high level.”

Ruff realizes that Roy still needs some time to get back to game speed, but couldn’t put a timetable on when he expects the “old” Roy to return.

“I don’t know for sure; I would hope a few games. I think he’s playing okay for Derek, but okay for Derek is not at the level he needs to be. When he’s really on his game he’s creating opportunities and setting up the people around him.”

Even with the early success of the Vanek-Adam-Pominville line, Ruff said he’s not against shuffling bodies around to jumpstart other players.

“We can always flip some pieces around,” he explains. “It seems sometimes that when you do that you end up with better results. We end up with Luke up between Thomas and Jason, and that’s just from trying to get pieces to fit and work together."


There was no change in Jochen Hecht’s status. Ruff said that Hecht will continue to practice, and will be evaluated again on the weekend.


The Sabres are scheduled to wear their third jersey 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.

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