With his NHL coaching debut now in the rearview mirror, Ron Rolston took to the practice ice with the Buffalo Sabres for the first time on Friday as the team skated at the Northtown Center in Amherst.
Following last night’s 3-1 loss in Toronto, Rolston and his assistants put their players through their paces, while also focusing on some areas of detail that he says need to be cleaned up quickly in order for the Sabres to get back on the winning track.
“There’s things in the hockey game where we don’t take care of situations in games. Last night, what happens when you’re on the road like that, you want to be able to go into the third period at 1-1. What happens right now with our hockey team is we’re the team that blinks first when you have a staredown,” explains Rolston. “In other words, the faceoff’s in the zone and we make a mistake in execution. The next thing you know it’s a 2-1 game going into the third.
“That’s part of the reason why things aren’t going the way they way we want them to go. It’s because there are times in a game when we execute for a very long period of time. But in this league, when you have a short span of a couple of shifts where you don’t execute, that can be the difference in a game. A lot of times it’s been the case here, and it was last night for us.”
It was a different style of practice that Jason Pominville has been used to for the past eight season, mainly because of the new voice in charge.
“We had to be focused on what he was saying. You’re used to be doing some drills, and obviously he’s bringing some new things that he wants to work on. Again, he doesn’t have much time; we don’t have that much practice time. But he’s trying to get as much as he can to us as quick as possible. Whether it’s by video or one the ice, I think that some adjustments are made.
There was a lot of emphasis on speed in today’s practice, and Pominville said that will be a key in executing Rolston’s plans for making the Sabres a faster team to play against on many levels.
“Not a quicker team speed wise, but a quicker team with our execution going north-south, and getting pucks deep behind their d-man and making them turn. I think from what I’ve seen so far that’s the biggest thing,” said Pominville. “I think sometimes we’re taking our time a little too much, and he’s really put the emphasis on get it going up ice quick and not hang on to it too long, creating more speed in our game.”
Ryan Miller was given the day off for rest after making his eighth straight start last night in Toronto… Jordan Leopold did not take part in practice, and Rolston said he’s still nursing an upper body injury… Rolston also said that defenseman Andrej Sekera is very close to a return to full health after suffering a charley horse against Boston last Friday.
Former head coach Lindy Ruff addressed the media briefly on Friday morning at First Niagara Center, following his dismissal on Wednesday. Click here to watch a replay of Ruff’s press conference.
TORONTO -- When Buffalo Sabres interim head coach Ron Rolston met with his new team for the first time last night, he said the message was simple and to the point.
“We were pretty brief. We understand at this point that the talking part of things is over,” explained Rolston this morning in Toronto before a post-morning skate media throng at the Air Canada Centre. “As Michael Jordan says, ‘I want to see it done and I want to hear it done.’
“We just talked about the situation. For a lot of players, that was there first time involved in a situation like that where a coach was let go and a new one was coming in to talk to them. We briefly talked about what we wanted to focus on; not worry about where we’re at, but what direction we’re moving in at this point.”
It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for Rolston, who woke up yesterday morning as the head coach of the Rochester Americans, getting ready to prepare for a home game against the Texas Stars. He realizes that with 31 games left in the regular season, it’s just a matter of jumpstarting a Sabres team that has struggled to not only score goals, but defend them as well.
“There’s not going to be major changes in terms of systems and things like that. Certainly, I think the players know what needs to be done at this point. The responsibility at this point falls on us to make sure we’re moving in that direction. And most importantly for the players as individuals, they have to make sure they’re accountable, and when they come to the rink tonight they’re ready to roll.”
For a handful of Sabres, this isn’t their first experience having Rolston behind the bench. Youngsters Marcus Foligno and TJ Brennan have spent parts of the last two seasons under Rolston in Rochester. The newest member of the Sabres, Kevin Porter, who joined the Sabres today, has served as the Amerks’ captain this season after being signed as a free agent in the summer.
This trio of players gave us some of their thoughts about Rolston, the 16th head coach in Sabres’ franchise history:
Foligno on how Rolston helped him in his rookie season with Rochester
"We did a lot of video. He brought me in to explain what he expected from me, and that he wanted me to be an important player. He just explained the facts. We started with the little things, and from there it moved on to bigger things. Ron is just very good at developing young guys, and I’m very fortunate to have been coached by him."
Foligno talks about what Rolston will bring to the Sabres
"Ron’s definitely a good developer and a good teacher, and he’s going to bring a lot of good things here. He’s familiar with my play, and he’s familiar with my style, so I think it’ll be a pretty easy transition."
Brennan describes Rolston’s coaching style
"He’s very positive; he’s an energy guy. I feel lucky that he’s coming in. He’s a familiar face that I know, and it’ll make me a little more comfortable. Hopefully it can be a positive turnaround for the team having Ron come in."
Porter’s thoughts on Rolston’s coaching philosphies
"He’s a great coach, really knows what he’s doing. He’s good with defensive play and he lets you play offense. I think it’s a good mixture and he’s going to be a good fit here"
Porter talks about Rolston’s future in the NHL
"He really has the tendencies of an NHL coach, and he definitely has the qualities. I think he’s going to be a good fit here for this team."
Cody McCormick cleared waivers today, and was replaced on the roster by Porter. The Detroit, Mich., native has played in 48 games this season with Rochester, amassing 44 points (15+29) and 38 penalty minutes.
Jordan Leopold did not take part in today’s skate, and will miss tonight’s game with an upper body injury. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will be a healthy scratch for the third straight game, and fourth time this season.
The Buffalo Sabres will look decidedly different tonight when they host the Winnipeg Jets at First Niagara Center. Defenseman Jordan Leopold will find himself scratched for the first time this season, and Drew Stafford has been dropped to the fourth line with John Scott and Cody McCormick. TJ Brennan will replace Leopold alongside Mike Weber, and will also man the point on the first power play unit. Patrick Kaleta moves up to the second line alongside Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.
Buffalo’s forward lines at today’s morning skate:
Power play unit #1: Vanek/Ennis/Foligno; Pominville/Brennan
Power play unit #2: Gerbe/Hodgson/Ott; Myers/Ehrhoff
Mikhail Grigorenko skated as the extra forward during today’s skate, and is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.
Ruff on the decision to scratch Leopold:
“I’ve talked to Jordan recently, probably three or four games ago, about improved play. I thought we got a couple of pretty strong games. But in the last game, I expect more out of him, out of a veteran defenseman. He’s gonna have to work hard to get back in now.”
Ruff on the decision to move Stafford off the second line:
“There’s an inside part to his game that is getting a little better. When he’s going well, you notice his skating. You notice the one-on-one battles; winning the majority of the one-on-one battles. When it isn’t going well, we’re not winning those battles.
“I didn’t think he was quite up to speed with his skating again the other night, and he lost some battles that I thought were key battles inside the game. It’s something that we’ve talked about. He needs to take a little bit more ownership on some of those battles to make a better play that turns into something better for us.”
CLICK TO HEAR THE FULL AUDIO FROM LINDY RUFF
KANATA, ONT. -- After being banished to the press box as a healthy scratch for the past two games, Tyler Myers will be back in the lineup tonight when the Buffalo Sabres face the Ottawa Senators for the second time in a week at Scotiabank Place. Ottawa won last Tuesday’s game by a 4-3 score.
Just being back in the lineup isn’t good enough for Myers. He knows there is still plenty of work to be done with his game.
“It feels good to be back in, but I don’t know if it’s a relief,” Myers said this morning. “I don’t come here just to get in the lineup. I need to put together a solid defensive game and just build it from there.”
Myers will be paired with Robyn Regehr on the blueline tonight, and he says the veteran defenseman has been a sounding board for him since he arrived in Buffalo.
“Ever since he came to the team, you really notice how much leadership he has. He’s helped me through a lot. We’ve had a bunch of conversations these past few days. He’s a guy I like to go to and look up to.”
Based on the morning skate, Buffalo’s other two defensive pairings tonight will be: Leopold/Weber, Ehrhoff/Sekera. With eight healthy defensemen, TJ Brennan and Alexander Sulzer are expected to be scratched.
Buffalo’s forward lines today were as follows:
John Scott also skated on the fourth line today, but is expected to be a healthy scratch.
Robyn Regehr has seen it all throughout his 14-year NHL career, experiencing all the highs and lows that go along with being a professional athlete. That’s why he’ll be the first to admit he knows exactly what Tyler Myers is going through right now.
Myers was a healthy scratch in Saturday’s 3-2 win on Long Island, and head coach Lindy Ruff categorized him as a “game-time decision” for tonight’s game against Boston at First Niagara Center. Regehr has gone through similar rough patches in his career, and has spoken at length with Myers about them. In times like this, Regehr says the key is getting back to basics.
“It’s just a matter of focusing on his game. When things aren’t going as well as you’d hope as a player, there are stretches like that when you go through some rough times and your confidence is down, and you just don’t feel that you can do things you want to out there,” explains the 32-year-old Regehr. “You just have to bring it down a level or two just to the basics and say, ‘I’m gonna do these four or five things out there tonight. That’s what I’m gonna focus on and that’s it.’ Once you do that, you start gaining a little bit of momentum and confidence in yourself, and you start building your game back up again.
“It sounds simple, but it’s hard when you’ve got some mistakes that are running through your mind that you’ve made in the past couple of games. You just have to try to learn from that and move on. Sometimes a guy’s worst enemy is himself. It’s happened to me where you get down on yourself for making a mistake, and that doesn’t do you any good. What you have to do is learn from it and move on, and go back and try to make up for it. I think that’s kind of where (Myers) is right now.”
Regehr is expected to be back in the lineup tonight after missing the last six games with a lower body injury sustained in Washington on January 27. His physical presence will be a much-needed addition against a rested Bruins team that hasn’t played since Wednesday, thanks to a game cancellation yesterday due to blizzard conditions that dumped two feet of snow in the Boston area from Winter Storm Nemo.
“They were sitting here waiting for us, and we have to make sure that we’re ready. If we play the way that we know we can, and that we’re supposed to, we’ll be fine. Matching the intensity in the start - because I’m expecting a very big start from them - will be very important.”
LISTEN TO FULL AUDIO OF REGEHR INTERVIEW
Patrick Kaleta and Andrej Sekera are both expected to return to the Buffalo lineup tonight, but the big news is who won’t be on the ice when the Sabres face the Islanders on Long Island. Struggling defenseman Tyler Myers will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season, following a stretch of games that have left many shaking their heads.
Myers is a league-worst minus-nine through 11 games, and has recorded just one point – the game-winning goal in Buffalo’s season opener against Philadelphia.
“I’m embarrassed, and I should be,” said Myers after today’s optional morning skate at the Nassau Coliseum. “Two years in a row now, it doesn’t feel very good. But the silver lining, I responded the way I needed to last time and that’s what I have to do this time.”
Last season, Myers was a healthy scratch when the Sabres played in Montreal on November 14. At the time he had recorded just four assists and was minus-three in Buffalo’s first 16 games. Myers was back in the lineup for the team’s next game at home on November 16 against New Jersey, and scored his first two goals of the season.
The 23-year-old Myers is hoping for a similar rebound this time around, but knows he has to clear his head first after what has been a tough start to the season.
“It’s just all mental for me. I make a mistake, I’m too hard on myself and put too much pressure on myself in the long run,” explains the 2010 NHL Rookie of the Year. “I think I just need to relax and take a step back and start enjoying myself instead of working my way out of my own game.”
With Myers taking a seat, Andrej Sekera will return to the ice after being out for the past three games with a deep bone bruise on his foot. Sekera blocked an Alexei Emelin shot just 54 seconds into Buffalo’s 6-1 loss in Montreal last Saturday. Sekera struggled to the bench, and went to the dressing room briefly, but returned to play 3:37 of ice time in four additional shifts. The 26-year-old Slovakian had three points (1+2) in eight games prior to the injury.
Kaleta is back after missing five games with a neck injury following a nasty hit-from-behind by Toronto’s Mike Brown on January 29. The injury forced Kaleta to be stretchered out of First Niagara Center to a local hospital where he ended up spending the night.
With Kaleta’s history of neck problems, head coach Lindy Ruff said he’s had ongoing talks with the rugged winger about being more careful of his surroundings on the ice.
“We’ve had discussions, and I’ll have another one with him today. In his case, he can’t put himself in that position,” Ruff said. “I still think there’s a little bit of the onus on the player that’s attacking, but there’s an onus on the player that’s gonna receive that hit too. Especially in Patty’s case, to not put your head in that position.”
It was an optional morning skate for the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center this morning prior to tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens. While names like Vanek, Ott and Pominville weren’t in attendance, the presence of three injured defensemen did open a few eyes.
Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera and Robyn Regehr skated in full with the defense group, and all three could return to the lineup by the weekend. In fact, if all goes well for Ehrhoff, he could be back as early as tonight after missing Tuesday’s game in Ottawa with an undisclosed muscle strain.
“(Ehrhoff) is gonna take the warm-up tonight, and we’ll see where he’s at,” said head coach Lindy Ruff. “Early indications are he should be able to make it. But no guarantee yet. We’ll dress seven ‘D’ for warm-up and go from there.”
Sekera has missed the last two games with a deep bone bruise on his foot after blocking a shot in Montreal last Saturday. Ruff expects him to be ready for this weekend’s games against the NY Islanders (Saturday) and Boston (Sunday).
Regehr has also been hobbled by a foot injury for the past five games, and had been wearing a boot since suffering the injury in Washington on Jan. 27. Ruff listed him as a “possibility” for the upcoming weekend.
The Sabres will be facing a tired Montreal team that arrived in Buffalo during the wee hours of the morning after a 2-1 loss at home to Boston last night. This is just their third road game; they come into the Queen City with a record of 1-1-0 in the first two.
Ryan Miller will get the call in goal for Buffalo, and he’ll be looking to avenge last Saturday’s 6-1 defeat at the Bell Centre where he took the loss after allowing four goals in two periods of work. Miller is 23-9-6 in his career against the Canadiens with a 2.26 GAA, .923 save% and three shutouts.
KANATA, ONT. -- Christian Ehrhoff will not be in the Buffalo lineup tonight when they face the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place for the first time this season. Ehrhoff was on the ice for the start of today’s morning skate, but left about 10 minutes later. Head coach Lindy Ruff said Ehrhoff is battling a “muscular thing that just popped up,” even though he played the entire game on Sunday against Florida.
In Ehrhoff’s absence, defenseman Adam Pardy was recalled from Rochester yesterday, and he will be paired with Tyler Myers tonight. The 28-year-old Pardy had three points and a plus-five rating with Rochester (AHL), and was playing more than 20 minutes per game for the Amerks. Pardy was acquired from Dallas on July 2 in the deal that also brought Steve Ott to Buffalo in exchange for Derek Roy.
The line of Marcus Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford was skating together at today’s skate, but Ruff indicated he might have a short leash with the struggling trio tonight. Ennis has two goals in nine games; Foligno has one; and Stafford has yet to find the back of the net. The line had great chemistry late last season following Foligno’s recall; however they’ve yet to show that same production through the first nine games.
“We’ve had lots of conversations the last few days, and we’ll give it one more shot to see if they can make a few adjustments. And if not, we’ll have to make a quick change,” stated Ruff. “I thought Stafford was in on a couple of opportunities last game. That line was a big line for us. If you can get that line going again, it would give us some depth at scoring.”
Jhonas Enroth is expected to get the start in goal for Buffalo. In four career games against the Senators, Enroth is 3-0-1 with a 2.16 GAA and .939 save%.
MONTREAL -- Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux made NHL history on December 31, 1988 against New Jersey, becoming the first player in league history to score a goal in all five possible game situations in the same night: even strength, power play, shorthanded, penalty shot and an empty netter. In hockey lore, Lemieux’s achievement is simply referred to as “Five Goals, Five Ways.” Thomas Vanek’s five-point performance in Boston last night didn’t make NHL history, but it was equally as impressive.
Vanek torched the previously-unbeaten Bruins with his eighth career hat trick and added a pair of assists on crucial goals in the game. It was his second five-point game this season, ironically making him the first player since Lemieux in 1992-93 to score five or more points twice in his team’s first seven games. He’s also the first Sabre with two five-point games in one season since that same 1992-93 campaign, when Pat LaFontaine (six times) and Alexander Mogilny (three) both had multiple five-point performances. Vanek currently leads the league with 15 points (6+9) in six games, and was named as the NHL’s Third Star for the month of January.
What made Vanek’s performance so memorable last night was not just the sum of the parts; it was the impact each point had on the game. These weren’t your run of the mill secondary assists or cheap goals. Every single goal and assist had a direct bearing on the outcome of the game. These weren't just moments in a game, they were defining moments. Don’t believe me? Let’s break each one down:
Point #1: Goal (2nd period, 1:38)
The two teams played a scoreless first period, with Boston holding a decisive 14-9 edge in shots. But Vanek temporarily hushed the TD Garden when he opened the scoring 98 seconds into the second period with an absolute howitzer from 26 feet out that he one-timed past Tuukka Rask off a perfect pass from Cody Hodgson. It was the fifth time in seven games Buffalo scored the first goal of the night, and they are now 3-2-0 when doing this.
Point #2: Goal (2nd period, 16:46)
After Vanek’s goal had given Buffalo the early lead, Boston scored three times in a 5:42 span, and appeared to be taking a stranglehold on the game in front of their raucous fans. But when Milan Lucuc and Zdeno Chara both were called for minors at 15:45, Buffalo was handed a golden chance to get back into the game with the rare five-on-three opportunity. Just over one minute into the two-man advantage, Vanek camped out in front of Rask and deftly redirected Christian Ehrhoff’s pass into the net to cut the Bruins lead to 3-2.
Point #3: Assist (2nd period, 18:19)
With the period winding down, the Sabres were buzzing the Boston net to try and tie the score before intermission. Tyler Ennis fired a puck through the crease, and Marcus Foligno corralled the loose puck on the left boards. After some strong work along half wall, he fires a pass to the slot where Vanek is being absolutely abused by defenseman Andrew Ference. Somehow Vanek manages to take the pass and feeds Ennis on his forehand to his left while diving forwards. Ennis then buries the easy tap-in from 20 feet out to tie the game at 3-3.
Point #4: Assist (3rd period, 6:54)
With the game deadlocked at 4-4, momentum had suddenly shifted to the Sabres. Jason Pominville stripped Lucic of the puck at center ice and chipped it ahead to Vanek. In mid-stride he banked the puck off the wall and sped past a flatfooted Johnny Boychuk. Vanek fired a slap-pass across the ice to Cody Hodgson, and his one-timer past Rask turns out to be the game-winner, and almost a mirror image of the second-period goal they teamed up on at the other end of the ice.
Point # 5: Goal (3rd period, 18:29)
The Bruins were pressing late in hopes of knotting things up when Rich Peverley’s point shot was blocked in front by Mike Weber. The puck kicked up to Vanek, however his bank shot up the boards was intercepted by Peverley at center ice. But Peverley put the puck right back on Vanek’s stick with an ill-timed hand pass, and he was off to the races from there. As Vanek reached the slot, he waited out both a sliding Dennis Seidenberg and a thoroughly-confused looking Rask with a forehand-backhand deke that gave the Sabres some much-needed insurance at 6-4.
BOSTON -- The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a four-game winless streak (0-3-1), having picked up just a single point in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday after opening the season with two straight wins.
But while everyone else in Western New York is expecting a line brawl tonight, head coach Lindy Ruff is the first to admit there’s more on the line than just revenge for what happened here last November.
“You try to win the puck battles. You try to win the territorial battles. We have to win a game. Not coming out of here with points is not being successful,” said Ruff after today’s morning skate at TD Banknorth Garden. “We need points; in a short season, you need points. We’ve answered the physical challenge, we’ve been there for each other since day one. We play a gritty style, a hitting style.
“But we have to win games. What we dealt with last year – we had a game where Gaustad foght Lucic, and Regehr fought Chara. We played a couple of great games against them and came away with points. Hockey is about winning the game, it’s about winning the mental battle, it’s about winning the physical battle. It’s about winning the territorial battles. You win those, you give yourself a chance to win.”
The Sabres were 2-2-2 against the Bruins last season, but were 0-2-1 in three games in Boston. Their only point was a shootout loss on the final day of the season.
Ryan Miller will get the call in goal tonight, his first start in Boston since being steamrolled by Milan Lucic on November 12 of last season.
Patrick Kaleta did not travel with the team to Boston after being released from the hospital in Buffalo on Wednesday, and Ruff said he expects Kaleta to be out of the lineup for a while. Kaleta injured his neck in Tuesday’s game against Toronto when he was hit from behind by Mike Brown. A boarding penalty was assessed on the play, but the NHL has since reviewed the play and said there will be no supplemental discipline.