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.
Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier ended the speculation this morning, announcing that 18-year-old rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will remain in Buffalo for the rest of the season. Grigorenko will make it official tonight when he plays in his sixth career game, against the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center.
Regier said that two specific factors played into the final decision to keep Grigorenko in Buffalo.
“The ability to continue his development, in conjunction with his ability to help us win hockey games. Those two things really make it up.”
LISTEN TO THE FULL AUDIO OF REGIER'S COMMENTS
Head coach Lindy Ruff joined Regier earlier today to inform Grigorenko of the decision, and he said it was obvious to everyone how the Russian felt about their answer.
“I think by the smile on his face, it was quite a big relief,” explained Ruff. “I think that moment for any young player – playing in your first game, and now having that pressure off. At the same time, knowing that you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.”
LISTEN TO THE FULL AUDIO OF RUFF'S COMMENTS
Grigorenko has played in all five of Buffalo’s games so far, including a season-high 17:10 of ice time on 20 shifts against Washington on Sunday. He’s yet to collect a point, but created several good scoring chances against the Capitals. In 32 games with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts this season, Grigorenko had 29 goals and 21 assists. He also had six points (2+4) in seven games for Russia at the 2013 World Junior Championship.
Buffalo’s leading scorer Thomas Vanek will return to the lineup tonight after missing Sunday’s game with a muscle strain suffered against Carolina on Friday.
Defenseman Robyn Regehr has an undisclosed lower body injury, and will not play tonight. Ruff confirmed this morning that blueliners TJ Brennan and Mike Weber will both make their season debuts for the Sabres tonight. Brennan, who has 14 goals and 35 points in 36 games with Rochester this season, spent time at today’s morning skate working as part of a power play unit.
Ryan Miller will get the start in goal. He’s 2-2 on the season, but has a career record of 28-14-0 against Toronto, with 2.41 GAA and .923 save%.
WASHINGTON, DC – Coming off back-to-back losses to the Carolina Hurricanes, head coach Lindy Ruff followed through on his promise to shake up the forward lines at Saturday’s practice. The Sabres skated at the Northtown Center on Saturday morning before jetting off to the nation’s capital for a Sunday afternoon tilt with the Washington Capitals.
Thomas Vanek was the only player not in attendance, as he was given a maintenance day to rest the muscle strain that forced him to miss part of the second period in Friday’s 3-1 loss. Ruff said he expects Vanek to be in the lineup on Sunday.
The most drastic changes came on the second and third lines. Drew Stafford remained on the right wing, but he was now joined by rookie Mikhail Grigorenko at center and Steve Ott on left wing. Tyler Ennis dropped back to center the third line with Jochen Hecht (left wing) and Patrick Kaleta (right wing). The fourth line consisted of John Scott-Matt Ellis-Nathan Gerbe.
Washington comes into Sunday’s game with a record of 0-3-1, putting them last in the Southeast Division with just a single point. They started the season with three consecutive regulation losses before dropping a 3-2 OT decision to the New Jersey Devils on Friday. The Capitals have been outscored 17-8 in the four games.
Mike Ribeiro leads Washington with four points (1+3) in four games, while Alexander Ovechkin has collected just one point – an assist – this season.
RALEIGH, NC – Lindy Ruff tends to put history on his side when deciding on his goalie rotation, and tonight appears to be one of those games. Jhonas Enroth will make his first start of the season as the undefeated Buffalo Sabres (2-0-0) play the first game of a back-to-back set against the winless Carolina Hurricanes (0-2-0) at PNC Arena. These same two teams will face-off again on Friday back in Buffalo at First Niagara Center.
Enroth blanked the Hurricanes with a sparkling 34-save performance in Carolina on November 18, 2011 for his only shutout of last season. In his career against the Hurricanes, the 24-year-old Swede is 2-0-0, with both wins coming in Carolina (the other being a 2-1 OT decision on April 3, 2011). Enroth has posted a stingy 0.49 GAA and .986 save% in those two games against the Hurricanes – his best numbers against any team.
“I don’t know why I’ve been playing well down here,” Enroth said with a smile. “Two games, one goal. And the team has played very well in front of me those games. The first game down here was a very big game down the playoff stretch. I’ve just been enjoying playing down here.”
Also making his season debut for the Sabres tonight is winger Nathan Gerbe. The 5-foot-5 sparkplug started the season on IR while recovering from offseason back surgery, but has spent the last two days skating on the left side of a line with rookie Mikhail Grigorenko and Steve Ott.
With Gerbe moving to the Grigorenko line, Jochen Hecht has dropped back to the fourth line center spot Patrick Kaleta and John Scott. Buffalo’s top two lines remain intact from Monday’s 2-1 win in Toronto: Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville; Stafford-Ennis-Foligno. Matt Ellis is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight along with defensemen Mike Weber and TJ Brennan.
Tonight’s game is the first of three games in four days for the Sabres, and the mid-point of a stretch that has them playing five games in eight days to open the season. This is also the first of three games between the Sabres and Hurricanes this season. Buffalo is 5-3-2 in its last 10 against the Canes; 4-2-4 in Carolina.
Leino took the morning skate, but was on a line with Cody McCormick and Nathan Gerbe – who are both on injured reserve. Head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed later that Leino will not play tonight, and was unsure if he’ll be ready to go for back-to-back games later this week against Carolina.
“We’ll just take it day-by-day,” said Ruff. “He tried it again today but didn’t feel well enough to play.”
LISTEN TO LINDY RUFF'S MORNING SKATE AUDIO
Jochen Hecht took Leino’s spot on the left side of a line with rookie Mikhail Grigorenko and Steve Ott. The trio played together several times in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Philadelphia, with Patrick Kaleta also seeing time on the left side.
Buffalo’s other three lines remain the same from Sunday: Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville; Stafford-Ennis-Foligno; Kaleta-Ellis-Scott.
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Ryan Miller will get his second consecutive start in goal for the Sabres, after stopping 27 shots in yesterday’s win. Miller is 27-14-0 in his career against Toronto, with 2.44 GAA and .922 save%, along with four shutouts.
Tonight’s game is the first of four meetings between the Sabres and Maple Leafs this season. Buffalo is looking to rebound after losing all three games in Toronto last season for just the third time in franchise history.
Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier finally made it public on Friday afternoon: Mikhail Grigorenko will start the season in the NHL. The kid was even given his own stall in the locker room, after spending the last five days getting changed on a plastic chair in the corner of the room.
The 18-year-old Grigorenko made Buffalo’s 23-man roster on the strength of a solid week of training camp, preceded by an impressive body of work this season in the QMJHL and World Junior Championship. Grigorenko has 50 points (29+21) in 32 games with the Quebec Remparts, and added two goals and four assists in seven games as Russia took home bronze at the World Juniors.
Grigorenko, Buffalo’s first round pick (12th overall) in the 2012 Entry Draft, now has five games to prove his NHL worth. When asked his opinion of Grigorenko’s play in camp, Regier smiled and simply said, “I think we should keep him around a little longer.”
Head coach Lindy Ruff said it’s somewhat disconcerting to not have the benefit of preseason games to assess Grigorenko’s NHL readiness, but he won’t let that cloud his judgement.
“You’re gonna have a lot of teams in the same situation that are trying to judge young players. You just want to make the right decision that’s going to set him up for his career. You wish you had more time, we don’t. But we’ve liked what we’ve seen. It’s all good so far.”
LISTEN TO COMPLETE AUDIO FROM REGIER & RUFF
The 6-foot-3 Grigorenko has centered a line of Ville Leino and Steve Ott throughout camp, and has quickly shown a comfort level between his two veteran wingers. He’s a big man with soft hands, and that’s what Ruff considers as Grigorenko’s best asset.
“He’s a good playmaker. And he defends well for a young player. He’s defending against his teammates; you’d love the opportunity to see him in a preseason game against other NHL players,” Ruff explains. “He does have real good awareness and he understands the game. His strength really is his playmaking, and he’s shown that with quick hands.”
With 25 players on the ice today, the Sabres were immediately able to get down to the 23-man roster limit by placing forwards Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick on Injured Reserve. This leaves them with 13 forwards and eight defensemen when they start the season at home to Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m.
Defensemen Adam Pardy cleared waivers, and has been sent to Rochester. Forwards Kevin Porter and Nick Tarnasky also cleared waivers, and they are all expected to be in the Amerks lineup tonight when they host Syracuse.
Based on the line combinations at Friday’s practice, it would appear that Matt Ellis could be the odd man out for forwards on Sunday. Ellis has been skating for most of the week on a line with injured forwards Gerbe and McCormick.
Here are the other lines from today’s practice:
The defensive pairings were: Myers-Regehr; Ehrhoff-Sulzer; Sekera-Leopold; Weber-Brennan.
The Sabres will close out their week of training camp on Saturday with a 10:30 a.m. practice at First Niagara Center. Admission is free, as is parking in the arena ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.
Towards the end of Wednesday’s training camp practice, John Scott (6-foot-8, 270 lbs.) was going mano-a-mano in the corner with Nathan Gerbe (5-foot-6, 178 lbs.) in a battle drill. Gerbe was dogged in his pursuit of Scott; at times jumping at him like a friendly chihuahua would with a doberman. But as the First Niagara Center crowd roared its approval, Gerbe’s stick suddenly caught Scott in the mouth, temporarily stunning the man known as “Big John.”
Gerbe’s composite toothpick may be the only way anyone can take down Big John.
When the 30-year-old behemoth from St. Catharines, Ont., was signed by Buffalo on July 1, it instantly sent a message to the rest of the NHL that the Sabres weren’t going to be pushed around anymore. It was something that had to addressed, given the team’s much-publicized incident in Boston last season when Milan Lucic steamrolled Ryan Miller without any instant repercussions.
Scott knows that his presence alone isn’t going to prevent that from happening, but he’s determined to create a different result.
“Never say never. But if it does, I think it’ll be dealt with differently than it was last year.”
One day after signing in Buffalo, Scott was joined by super pest winger Steve Ott, arriving in a trade from Dallas for Derek Roy. It’s this mix of size and sandpaper that has already created a different vibe in the Sabres’ locker room.
“I think it’ll be a lot tougher. We’ve noticed a difference even in camp, just the tone and the attitude of the guys. People are a little more comfortable and a little more aggressive, have a little bit of an attitude now that we’ve got a few more guys in here with strength and size.”
“We all know what John is gonna bring. He’s a real character. He’s been great in the room; he’s been great on the bench. He knows what he’s here for, and he can add the toughness that at times may be needed.”
As opponents like Carolina (Kevin Westgarth) and the New York Islanders (Joe Finley) loaded up on big guys in recent days, Scott ensures the Sabres will be able to keep pace in the rugged Eastern Conference when the going gets tough.
“When you have younger players, it’s an opportunity to provide some cover for them in some tough physical buildings a lot of times,” explains Ruff. “In our case we have some younger players. It should help Marcus Foligno; it should help Pat Kaleta, and it could make Steve Ott an even tougher guy to play against because he’s got some cover behind him.”
When asked about the recent additions to the Eastern Conference, Scott broke into a wry smile while answering the question.
“A lot of the teams are addressing needs. All the size kind of came out to the East this season, teams saw that, and they’re preparing for it. There’s a lot of big guys in the East now. It’ll be fun, I like going up against big guys.”
With 236 penalty minutes (including 22 regular season fighting majors according to Hockeyfights.com) and five points in 136 career games with Minnesota, Chicago and the New York Rangers, Scott makes no apologies for what he brings to the rink every day.
“Everyone looks at me to kind of be the protector; the aggressive guy to help out teammates when called upon. They know I’ve got a mentality where I like to do that. I take pride in protecting my teammates, going out there and finishing something if someone is being a pest on the other team.
“I’m not going to be a second or third line guy; I know my role. I’m a fourth line guy. I don’t want to be a liability out there. I want to protect the team, keep the other team honest and play physical. Get in their zone; spend some time in their end, that’s about it.”
The Sabres will take Thursday off, returning to practice at First Niagara Center on Friday and Saturday. Both sessions will begin at 10:30 a.m., and are open to the public. Parking is also free in the arena ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.