Jhonas Enroth is expected to start in goal for the Buffalo Sabres. The team hopes the goals to support him will follow.
Coming into the game Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center, Enroth has posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.46 goals against average. He’s looking for his second win of the season and the players in front of him will look to drum up the goal support needed to get him that victory.
“He’s been unlucky and he’s been playing great all year,” Sabres forward Ville Leino said. “Certainly guys are on his side here and want to give him a win here.”
The game can be seen nationally on NBCSN.
In Enroth’s 13 starts this season, Buffalo has scored only 17 goals and has been shut out three times. Enroth has given up three goals or less in each of his past six starts, but has a 0-3-3 record including two shootout losses to show for it.
“We have a lot of trust in both goaltenders and unfortunately for Jhonas, we just haven’t scored too much for him,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “He’s played some great games so we’re just going to let him do his thing and hopefully we’ll get a couple for him.”
Other than in goal, no lineup changes are expected for the Sabres. On the defensive front, Tyler Myers will serve the final game of a three-game suspension for a high hit on Devils forward Dainius Zubrus on Jan. 4.
Right wing Drew Stafford is not yet ready to return from an upper-body injury that has sidelined him for the past three games. Nolan said it might be possible for Stafford to play Wednesday night in Toronto.
Leino returned to the lineup Sunday afternoon after missing three games with a lower-body injury. He played 15:49 against the Capitals in his return and said that while it took him a little bit to get re-adjusted, he’s felt better in the days since.
“Yesterday’s practice was better and today and the morning skate, I felt really good,” he said. “So hopefully I can continue that today at the game.”
The Sabres have earned points in eight-straight home games, going 6-0-2 over that stretch. It’s the first time they’ve earned points in eight straight since they went 7-0-2 at home from Feb. 17 to March 24, 2012.
Sabres center Zenon Konopka said that success has stemmed from the team starting to build some chemistry and it’s really starting to show on a consistent basis, especially at First Niagara Center.
“You have to find your identity as a team and I think as a team, and some individuals, we’re starting to find an identity, which is nice to see,” he said. “Now we have to grow off that, which is easier said than done because it’s a real good League to play in.”
In the Sabres-Flyers rivalry, being at home has had its advantages as of late. The home team has won the last six games played between these two teams, with all six games ending in regulation. Philadelphia won its first game of the season against Buffalo 4-1 at Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 21.
The Sabres are looking to win their third consecutive home game against the Flyers for the first time since they won three straight home games against Philadelphia from Oct. 17, 2006 to Dec. 21, 2007.
Drew Stafford skated with the team Monday morning at First Niagara Center for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury against the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Day. He skated in a red non-contact jersey but thinks he might be able to play soon.
“It’s more [of a] day-to-day kind of thing. I’ve been feeling really good the last couple days,” Stafford said. “I had a really long day today, hard working day today. We’ll see how it responds later today and tomorrow morning. That’s pretty much where we’re at.”
WATCH: DREW STAFFORD INTERVIEW
Cody McCormick, also in a red non-contact jersey, isn’t as close to coming off injured reserve as Stafford may be, but is happy to be back on the ice as a part of a team practice. He’s missed 11 games with an upper-body injury. He made his return to practice on Saturday.
“There’s still time, but getting back with the guys and being able to participate in practices, it’s a welcome change to what I was doing,” McCormick said. “You want to practice with the guys, you want to be around the guys and when you’re hurt, you’re doing the things on the side and working to get back into practice. It feels good to get out there.”
Henrik Tallinder and Kevin Porter, who are also on injured reserve, have been skating on their own and interim coach Ted Nolan said that they, like McCormick, will still be out for a little while longer.
Steve Ott was given a maintenance day and did not practice. John Scott, a healthy scratch in the team’s 2-1 shootout win in Washington on Sunday, took Ott’s spot on a line with Cody Hodgson and Matt D’Agostini.
The Sabres announced late Sunday night that 19-year-old center Mikhail Grigorenko had decided to accept his assignment to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“We can’t control what people do and what they say, but we certainly can control how we’re going to try to run this organization and what we feel is necessary for the development of young players,” Nolan said. “The tail can’t wag the dog. The dog wags the tail.
“So we feel as an organization, it’s best for him to develop in junior hockey and that’s not taking anything away from him. He’s got some skills and he’s got some ability, but in order for him to play at this level, we just need a little bit more.”
With Tallinder out with an upper-body injury and Tyler Myers serving a three-game suspension, the Sabres coaching staff has been rotating the second “A.” Mike Weber served as an alternate captain on Thursday against Florida and the letter was given to Matt Moulson for the game on Sunday.
WATCH: MATT MOULSON INTERVIEW
“It’s an honor to have a letter on your jersey,” Mouslon said. “I don’t think it changes the way you act or the things I would do. Who knows how long I’ll have it for, but it is always an honor to be looked upon as a leader.”
In his last 10 games, Ryan Miller has a save percentage of .950. That’s the best save percentage he’s posted in any 10-game stretch of his career.
He made a highlight-reel save with the blade of his stick on Mikhail Grabovski with 2:14 to play in the third period that Nolan called “one for the ages.”
After the game, Nolan said he was looking down to see which line to call out next and had to watch the save on replay.
“I was looking down at my papers for the next line combination and the guys said I missed the save of the year,” Nolan said Sunday night.
How would Nolan describe Miller’s play of late?
“Out of this world, maybe,” he said. “I don’t know. His last two starts and every game he’s played here since I’ve been here have been outstanding.”
WATCH: TED NOLAN PRESS CONFERENCE
Miller’s teammates have noticed his strong play all season.
“He’s one of the best goalies in the world and sometimes when you do have breakdowns, he’s obviously there to bail you out much like he’s done all year,” Moulson said. “You have a world-class goalie like that, I think it instills a little more confidence in the team. He’s been playing tremendous.”
The win over the Capitals marked the team’s first win on the road since Nov. 5 in San Jose. They snapped an 11-game losing streak away from First Niagara Center.
“It’s nice to win any time, but I didn’t realize we didn’t win on the road for that long,” Nolan, who was hired on Nov. 13, said. “The guys sure knew. It’s not where we won, but how we won last night.
“I thought it was a real total team effort from the 20th guy to our goaltenders, right through the lineup, everybody contributed. Since I’ve been here, it was probably the best win as a team that we had.”
BUY TICKETS FOR TUESDAY NIGHT VS. PHILADELPHIA
The Sabres next take on the Philadelphia Flyers at home on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NBCSN. After the game, Buffalo will travel to Toronto for a Wednesday night match against the Maple Leafs at 7:30 p.m.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
32 John Scott – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
17 Linus Omark – 23 Ville Leino – 65 Brian Flynn
82 Marcus Foligno – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis
WASHINGTON – Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan’s career is rooted in junior hockey. His head coaching career started when he took over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League during the 1988-89 season. There, he ended up winning two OHL Championships and the Memorial Cup in 1993-94.
Between NHL coaching stints, he was also been behind the bench for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and won a QMJHL championship in 2005-06.
So when he, Sabres president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine and new general manager Tim Murray made the decision to loan 19-year-old rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko to the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, they saw it as being the move that would be most beneficial to Grigorenko's development and future success.
However, multiple media outlets have reported that Grigorenko has refused to report to Quebec and his status with the Sabres remains unclear.
Before the Sabres’ afternoon game against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center, Nolan spoke with the media and addressed the situation.
“We knew obviously players would be disappointed when things like that happen, but [we had] no indication that he wouldn’t report,” Nolan said. “It’s one thing that you learn what you can control, what you can’t control. Tim and Pat will take care of that. I’ve got this group of guys to worry about that are here.”
Nolan stressed the importance he places on development, particularly at the junior level and cited Norris Trophy-winning defenseman P.K. Subban as a great example of patience with development paying off.
“I come from the junior background. P.K. Subban played four years in Belleville [of the Ontario Hockey League] and he turned out pretty good,” he said. “There are different leagues for different players. Some guys turn out better playing college hockey. Some guys turn out better playing junior hockey. It’s just one of those situations that whatever’s a good fit but junior hockey’s a good place to develop.”
Neither LaFontaine nor Murray traveled with the team to Washington, so they were unavailable to comment on what they plan to do next in regards to Grigorenko.
The last time the Sabres and Capitals met, Ryan Miller made a career-high 49 saves in a 2-1 shootout win at First Niagara Center.
Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin had 12 shots, but didn’t record a point in 21:40 of ice time.
Nolan said that while he was pleased his team was able to keep most of Washington’s 50 shots to the outside, they likely won’t be able to come out of the game Sunday afternoon with two points if they once again surrender that many shot attempts.
“He’s too dynamic,” Nolan said. “You eventually give that much, something’s going to go in eventually. We’re going to hopefully limit his shots to maybe half of that today.”
Cody Hodgson and Ville Leino are expected to return to the lineup after missing time with injuries. John Scott will be the team’s healthy scratch. Ryan Miller, who hasn’t played since Jan. 4 due to scheduling changes, is expected to start in goal for the Sabres.
Buffalo Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan broke the news after the team's practice Saturday morning at Riverside Ice Arena that the organization has loaned rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko back to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Nolan said he was part of the discussions along with president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine and new general manager Tim Murray. He also said they believe the move is the best thing for Grigorenko’s long-term success.
“We’re not looking at what he can do for us now. We’re looking at what he can do for us down the road and when he develops. He’s only 19,” Nolan said. “…Development is crucial. In talking with Tim and Pat, that’s what we really want to do, is develop.”
After speaking with Grigorenko, Nolan hopes the young center will see playing in the QMJHL as a good opportunity.
“He was a little bit upset, I would imagine, but this is non-negotiable,” Nolan said. “It’s one of those things that has to be done.”
Cody Hodgson and Ville Leino were full participants in the Buffalo Sabres’ practice at Riverside Ice Arena on Saturday and are expected to play Sunday afternoon against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
Hodgson has missed the past eight games with an upper-body injury and was officially activated from injured reserve after practice.
“I’m really excited. It’s great,” Hodgson said. “The team’s been getting a lot of points, especially at home, so it’s good to watch and learn some things about the team and how I can fit in a little better.”
Leino has been out for three games with a lower-lower body injury.
“You don’t want players to get hurt, but once in awhile when they do and they have to rest their bodies, they come back with some renewed energy,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “They seem both ready to go today.”
With Hodgson and Leino ready to return, the Sabres returned center Johan Larsson to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.
“He played really well for us,” Nolan said. “He’s going to be a good player for us but we just need him to get on a consistent basis.”
Sporting a red non-contact jersey, center Cody McCormick practiced with the team for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury on Dec. 17. He’s currently on injured reserve and has missed the past 10 games.
Defenseman Brayden McNabb was also back with the team after being sent down Friday to play a game with the Amerks.
Ryan Miller is looking forward to getting back between the pipes for Buffalo. Jhonas Enroth was supposed to start Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, but when that game was postponed to Feb. 25 due to inclement weather, Enroth started the team’s next game on Thursday against Florida.
Miller hasn’t played since Jan. 4.
“That was a little strange. It’s kind of why I wanted to get some work in today,” Miller said. “I was actually trying to find some ice yesterday and couldn’t find anything. A little too much time around the house, just trying to get everything going and get ready for an afternoon game.
[It was] kind of an odd week for me, but these are things you prepare for and you look ahead for and just be ready to go.”
Nolan said he has not yet had any direct conversations with Murray about removing the interim tag from his title. For now, he’s focused on his day-to-day duties of coaching the team.
“Like I’ve mentioned before, one of these days, I hope it [is lifted], but it’s not one of my things I’m thinking about,” Nolan said. “It’s trying to get this team better right now and coaching this team to the best of my ability. Whatever happens down the road will happen and I feel confident in my ability, but we’ll see.”
The Sabres announced Thursday morning that they had hired Murray and in the few days he’s gotten to know him, Nolan said he’s been impressed by the new boss.
“I really like him. He’s direct. He knows people, he knows hockey players,” Nolan said. “As a coach, you want a person who’s going to load your arsenal up with some good talent. The only thing we have to do down the road is just open the gate and let them go.”
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
9 Steve Ott - 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
23 Ville Leino – 65 Brian Flynn – 17 Linus Omark
82 Marcus Foligno – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis – 32 John Scott
Coming off a bronze-medal performance with Team Russia in the IIHF World Junior Championship, Mikhail Grigorenko was back on the ice with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday at First Niagara Center.
He won’t play Thursday night against the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m., but the 19-year-old rookie center was excited to return. He led Team Russia with five goals and three assists in seven games in the tournament.
“I think this year, I was more of a leader on the team,” Grigorenko said after Buffalo’s optional morning skate. “I was leading by example and pretty much all the players on the team knew that I was from the NHL and they were just looking up to me. I was really happy about my experience there. ”
This was Grigorenko’s third time playing in the World Junior Championship. While he would have liked to win gold, he believes he gained a lot more experience this year. He was put in situations that he believes have helped his all-around game.
“Maybe previously, I was playing more offensively. I didn’t really think about defense or little details like faceoffs or winning battles,” he said. “This year, I played a really good two-way game. I thought I played good defensively and I also played on the penalty kill. I thought I was more of a complete player. I was doing a lot of good stuff for the team offensively and defensively.”
WATCH: MIKHAIL GRIGORENKO INTERVIEW
Grigorenko hopes to stick with the Sabres, but it’s uncertain how long he will be in Buffalo, however. He could be returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Sabres management will meet as soon as after the game on Thursday to discuss his future.
Making a decision is a priority for new general manager Tim Murray.
“He just came back from Europe,” Murray said. “And in all honesty, I got here last night and started talking about scenarios and we’re past the point of having four different scenarios. There are two scenarios and we’ll decide one of those two here very quickly.”
The team announced that Murray had been named the new GM in a press conference Thursday after practice.
Jhonas Enroth is expected to start in goal.
He’ll make up for his missed start Tuesday night when the team’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was postponed due to inclement weather. That game has since been rescheduled for Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.
Hodgson wore a red non-contact jersey for the second day in a row. He’s been out since Dec. 21 with an upper-body injury.
GREAT SEATS STILL AVAILABLE FOR TONIGHT'S GAME
Leino, in a normal yellow jersey the forwards wear on game days, worked with the assistant coaches after the skate. Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said they were going to push him pretty hard and then see how he responds.
Leino has missed two games with a lower-body injury.
The Sabres will be without two of their top defensemen. Alternate captain Henrik Tallinder is out due to an upper-body injury and Tyler Myers will serve the first game of a three-game suspension handed down by the NHL Department of Player Safety.
In the team’s last game, Myers hit New Jersey Devils forward Dainius Zubrus in the head and received a two-minute minor. After a phone hearing Monday, the League decided to suspend Myers for three games.
WATCH: MIKE WEBER INTERVIEW
Tallinder has missed three games and Myers has worn an “A” in his place. Now with Myers out, Nolan announced that Mike Weber will serve as an alternate captain.
“It’s a huge honor and it kind of makes you a little bit speechless. I’ve tried to be a leader without it for a long time,” Weber said. “I’ve always tried to play the same way, play a hard game and be hard to play against. The most important thing is be a good teammate in the locker room.”
The Buffalo Sabres will be without Tyler Myers for the next three games. The defenseman received a two-minute penalty on Saturday for illegally checking New Jersey Devils forward Dainius Zubrus in the head. The NHL Department of Player Safety then scheduled a phone hearing with Myers for Monday and later announced that they had handed down a three-game suspension.
He received two for the hit and an extra game for being a repeat offender. He was suspended three games in March 2012 for boarding.
Initially, Myers didn’t think he would receive three games this time around.
“I was pretty surprised but there was a conversation after the phone call where he explained that it doesn’t matter what type of hit it is anymore. If there’s any contact to the head, it’s going to be 2-5 games,” he said after practice Wednesday at First Niagara Center.
“I liked the fact that on the phone call that everyone recognized that it wasn’t my intention to target his head. After I saw the video, it’s clear that there is contact to the head. Fortunately he’s OK and came back into the game and there are no problems there.”
WATCH: TYLER MYERS INTERVIEW
Buffalo will also be without Henrik Tallinder on Thursday when the Florida Panthers come to town.. Myers plays an average of 21:46 per night, second on the team. Tallinder is sixth, playing 19:20 each night on average, so other defensemen will have to play bigger roles for the Sabres.
Defenseman Mike Weber said they’ll have to look down the lineup to play key minutes on the penalty kill as well.
“Those are two guys that play a lot of minutes so guys are going to have to step up and play those minutes,” Weber said. “I think with that, stepping up in the right situation, you’re not going to replace a [Myers] with the offensive abilities that he has. Someone’s got to step up and just play solid minutes."
Center Cody Hodgson skated with the team for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury on Dec. 19 albeit in a red non-contact jersey.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan hopes Hodgson will be able to return to the lineup soon.
“Right now it’s up to Cody. We’re going to see how he feels,” Nolan said. “Today was the first day he practiced with the team. He said he felt great some hopefully he feels like that for a couple days in a row. And if he does that then hopefully we’ll get him in.”
Ville Leino, who has missed two games with a lower-body injury. “Also skated in a non-contact jersey and the Sabres staff will continue to evaluate in throughout the week.
The Sabres were back on the ice after having their game Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes postponed due to incliment weather.
"You don’t want to put anyone in danger. Fans coming to the game, the workers coming to the arena to work, all those [people]," Nolan said. "The game of hockey is nice to watch, but we need to make sure we do it where everybody can get there safely."
A make-up date as yet to be announced.
Jhonas Enroth was expected to start that game and Nolan said he will play Thursday night against Florida.
Ryan Miller will have some company at the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month. Miller was named to Team USA on New Year’s Day and on Tuesday, three of his teammates were announced to national rosters.
Miller was especially happy to hear his fellow netminder had been named to the Swedish team and said he would look forward to a potential goaltending duel against Enroth and Sweden.
“It’d be cool. It’d be definitely unique,” Miller said. “It’s not something many teams that I’ve seen have a chance to do. We’ll see how it works out, but it’d be nice.”
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
9 Steve Ott – 22 Johan Larsson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
17 Linus Omark – 65 Brian Flynn – 82 Marcus Foligno
32 John Scott – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis
Red (Non-Contact) Jerseys: 23 Ville Leino – 19 Cody Hodgson
Tyler Myers is waiting for the phone to ring.
The 6-foot-8, 219-pound Buffalo Sabres defenseman faces a phone hearing Monday afternoon with the NHL Department of Player Safety for a hit on New Jersey Devils center Dainius Zubrus in Buffalo’s 2-1 win Saturday night.
Myers received a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head at 7:02 of the third period. Zubrus remained in the game and practiced with the Devils on Monday.
“I don’t want to say too much until I have my phone call, but it’s one of those plays where [I was] being aggressive and I came out of it with a phone call,” Myers said after practice Monday at First Niagara Center. “So we’ll see what happens.”
Myers was suspended three games in March 2012 for checking Scott Gomez into the boards from behind.
The Department of Player Safety retains the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review.
With Henrik Tallinder already out with an injury, the Sabres will have to lean on their depth on the blue line to eat up some minutes if Myers is suspended for any length of time.
“Every team has injuries and every team has to cover up for one another,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “But when you lose big parts of your team, it means players have to play that much smarter.”
Sunday was a good day for Rochester Americans defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. He scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give Team Finland the gold medal over host Sweden at the World Junior Championship.
It’s the first time Finland has won the tournament since 2006.
Members of the Sabres organization were obviously pleased to see Ristolainen, the team’s top pick in 2013 (eighth overall) step up to decide the game.
“Ristolainen, that’s a pretty big goal for him. When you’re that age and when you score a big goal with your peer group, you get to the next level. He did his country proud and did us proud,” Nolan said. “When you’re a big player, you make big plays. Now the fans here and the organization have something to really look forward to.”
Nolan said that Ristolainen will return to the Amerks now that the tournament is complete.
Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov won the bronze medal. Grigorenko led Russia in points, recording five goals and three assists in seven games. He scored to help the Russians beat Canada in the third-place game.
What did Nolan think of Grigorenko’s performance at the World Juniors?
“There were some mixed reviews. That’s the problem with some young players – that consistent factor. He played great at moments and not so well at other moments,” Nolan said. “Certain players take a little bit longer to get that [consistency]. We have some players in this League that are like that so that’s what development’s all about. Once he gets that [consistency as part] of his arsenal, he’ll be a great player for us.”
WATCH TED NOLAN'S PRESS CONFERENCE
Grigorenko will return to Buffalo, but may not suit up for the Sabres in a game anytime soon. Nolan and president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine will meet to discuss Grigorenko’s future once the 19-year-old center returns to North America.
Nolan said they’re leaning toward sending Grigorenko back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League so that he can work on developing the consistency that may be lacking from his game.
“It’s up to our organization to try to correct that. You don’t correct it by just giving things to players like that,” he said. “You make them earn it and you watch them do it on a consistent basis for a consistent amount of time. You don’t just do it for a week and say, ‘Hey, we’re all fixed now.’ It’s going to take some time to correct it.”
Zadorov will return to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, where he will compete for the Memorial Cup later this year.
“I was pretty good. Going day-to-day, but I’m feeling better every day,” Leino said. “Tomorrow, we’ll see in the morning how it feels, but I’m feeling good and as long as it’s like that, I’m happy with it.”
There’s a chance he may not be ready for the team’s home game Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Nolan said the coaching staff isn’t going to rush Leino back into the lineup.
“For only his second time in about seven days, eight days skating, he looked pretty good today but we didn’t push him to a point where we’re going to really going to aggravate his injury a little bit,” Nolan said. “We’ll give him one more day, we’ll push him a little bit tomorrow and we’ll see how he reacts to it. But he’s more on a day-to-day basis now than before.”
26 Matt Moulson – Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
9 Steve Ott – 22 Johan Larsson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
17 Linus Omark – 65 Brian Flynn – 82 Marcus Foligno
32 John Scott – 24 Zenon Konopka – 23 Ville Leino – 37 Matt Ellis
Zenon Konopka said he should’ve listened to his pet rabbit.
After being claimed off of waivers by the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, Konopka set out to make the trip from Minnesota by plane. Hoppy will opt for a car ride later this week.
Konopka’s connecting flight was at LaGuardia Airport in New York but once he got there, there was a chance he might not make it to Buffalo in time for the Sabres’ game Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center.
“The flight got delayed four hours and then canceled,” Konopka said. “But the tough part was they said they could get me in on Sunday, and I said, ‘That’s not going to work.’ So we found another flight at JFK, the other airport in New York. And then they lost my bags.”
By 3 a.m., he had his bags, and made it to JFK later that morning. However, he still wasn’t quite in the clear.
“We were on the tarmac for almost two hours this morning but finally got in here,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”
Konopka took the ice just before 11 a.m. on Saturday as the Sabres optional morning skate was wrapping up. He made it in the end, but he figures he maybe should’ve taken Hoppy’s method of transportation.
“Hoppy’s not a huge flyer,” Konopka said, laughing. “He wanted to drive so my buddy was down in Minnesota. He’s going to chauffer Hoppy up to Buffalo in the next couple days and he’s pretty excited as well.”
Known for his toughness and faceoff prowess, Nolan hopes that Konopka’s attitude and work ethic will leave a lasting impression on some of the younger players on the team.
“The one thing we really want to do is change the culture a little bit here, getting some guys that play with a little sandpaper to rub off on the other players,” Nolan said. “…You learn from your peers probably more so than you learn from coaches sometimes. Guys talk all the time in the locker room. So hopefully some traits that make him successful like the draws, a Tyler Ennis could learn from down the road.”
Konopka, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Thursday, grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. and remembers going to Sabres games at the Aud with his father to cheer on players like Gilbert Perreault, Lindy Ruff, Mike Foligno, Dave Andreychuk and Donald Audette.
WATCH: KONOPKA MEETS THE BUFFALO MEDIA
He’ll have some family and friends in attendance on Saturday and likely more for games in the future.
“One of my buddies said, ‘You’re going to be playing for free here by the time you’re done paying for tickets,’” Konopka said. “It’s something that I want my friends and family to enjoy too. They’ve been there the whole way for me and now to come back home and play in front of them is pretty special.”
Ville Leino, who missed the team’s last game with a lower-body injury, skated Saturday morning but will not play against New Jersey. Leino is hoping to be ready for Tuesday night when the Sabres take on the Hurricanes at home.
“I thought he looked good today, but the injury he had was pretty serious so we’re going to give him a little more time,” Nolan said.
WATCH: TED NOLAN'S PREGAME PRESS CONFERENCE
Defenseman Brayden McNabb will return to the lineup. He was a healthy scratch against the Wild on Thursday. He will take Alexander Sulzer’s spot in the lineup and Nolan said that McNabb will see some time on special teams.
“We have to be more conservative, more consistent and be aware,” McNabb said of the defensive corps. “When we’re going, you have to be 100 percent sure when you’re going to pinch and when you’re going to take those chances. It’s something where you have to read the situation and make sure you jump at the right spots.”
Ryan Miller is expected to start in goal.
With Henrik Tallinder out with an upper-body injury, his regular defensive partner Tyler Myers has been serving as an alternate captain in his place. Nolan made the decision based on Myers’ recent stretch of strong play.
“The way he’s transformed his game over the last month, he’s getting better and better,” Nolan said. “He’s getting more competitive. He’s getting more engaged with the play. He’s getting louder in practice. It really looks like he’s maturing into that type of defenseman, type of leader that we need on this team.”
The Buffalo Sabres claimed center Zenon Konopka, a native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., off of waivers on Friday. He'll play against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at First Niagara Center, but there was a chance that we wouldn't make it to Buffalo in time.
Here, Sabres.com pieces together his adventure from Minnesota to Buffalo.
With another injury to deal with, the Buffalo Sabres looked to the waiver wire for a veteran player to fill the void.
Right wing Drew Stafford is expected to miss some time with an upper-body injury and the Sabres announced Friday afternoon that they had claimed center Zenon Konopka off of waivers from the Minnesota Wild.
Konopka is a 6-foot, 213-pound centerman who has won 65.7 percent of his faceoffs this season (157-82). He’s also not afraid to drop the gloves, having racked up 55 penalty minutes – including seven fighting majors – in 36 games. He has one goal and one assist on the year. He’s recorded 29 points (12+17) through 323 career games in the NHL.
With the move being announced during Buffalo's practice at First Niagara Center, Konopka was obviously not with the team Friday.
Konopka was waived by the Wild because the team needed to make room for a third goaltender on the roster after Josh Harding had to miss the game against the Sabres on Thursday due to illness. Wild coach Mike Yeo explained the team’s reasoning that afternoon after the roster move had been made.
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“We had to make a move to get a goalie up here and that was the decision,” Yeo said “You look at the way our lines are right now, this wasn’t just an impulse thing where we said, ‘OK, let’s construct our lines like this.’ We want to give it a real chance to work and we think it can work with the four centermen that we have and that kind of puts Z on the outside a little bit there.”
Thursday was also Konopka’s 33rd birthday.
“Those types of guys are really good role models for the younger players and they last that long because they have that special ingredient to work and compete,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “[Matt] Ellis is the same type of guy. You don’t have to be blessed with a lot of skill, but that certain amount of grit and that determination, that goes long ways.”
A native of nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Konopka played hockey at an early age with Sabres center Matt Ellis. Ellis was raised in Welland, Ont.
“I’ve heard Teddy use the term to describe [captain Steve Ott] as a warrior. Well, this guy’s a warrior, too,” Ellis said. “I grew up with him, played minor hockey with him. He’s a guy that lays everything on the line night in and night out.”
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He made special note of Konopka’s competitive nature.
“He’s there to compete, loves to win and he’ll be a nice asset to this locker room,” Ellis said said. “I can’t say enough about the type of guy he is. He’s that one guy in our area, even in summer hockey, he hates to lose.”
Matt Moulson was a teammate of Konopka’s when both were on the New York Islanders in 2010-11. Konopka recorded a career-high nine points (2+7) and 307 penalty minutes in 82 games that year.
“He competes hard. He’ll do anything for the team. He’s a great team guy. He always has your back,” Moulson said. “He takes great pride in his faceoffs and I know that’s something he works on all the time. That’s something we could definitely use. He’ll be a welcome addition.”
“It is what it is,” Ellis said. “It was a mad scramble in front. I put it towards the net and [Myers] did a good job getting himself in a good position and it banked in off him.
“I think that’s the way our team needs to score goals. Our team needs to create chaos in front with bodies going to the net. We need to get on the board with a lot more of those workman-like, so-called ugly goals and whatnot.”
On the injury front, Nolan did not have an update on Stafford, who left the game Thursday night in the first period with an upper-body injury.
“It’s going to be a little while,” Nolan said.
Those players and Kevin Porter, who is on injured reserve, aren’t expected to return to the lineup for at least a week. Porter and McCormick could be out longer.
Ville Leino missed the game against the Wild with a lower-body injury but Nolan hopes he’ll be ready to go against the Devils on Saturday.
“Ville’s pretty close. He’s going to be another game-time decision tomorrow,” Nolan said. “Hopefully he’s in.”