SUNRISE, FLA. – Thomas Vanek will miss tonight’s game with an upper body injury, and winger Drew Stafford will be back in the lineup when the Sabres close out their two-game Florida swing with a 7:30 p.m. start at the BB&T Center against the Panthers.
Vanek didn’t skate for the second day in a row after he was forced to leave Tuesday’s game in Tampa following just one shift at the start of the third period. Interim head coach Ron Rolston said Wednesday that Vanek is suffering from an upper body muscle strain, but didn’t say if it was related to the injury that held him out of the Toronto game one week ago tonight.
Stafford will skate on a line with Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino, after being a healthy scratch for the last two games. Based on the brief line work done at the morning skate, rookie Brian Flynn appears to be in line as tonight’s healthy scratched forward. Today’s lines were:
Rolston wouldn’t confirm if defenseman Andrej Sekera would return tonight, although he did say Sekera is available after missing the last five games with an upper body injury.
Ryan Miller will get his fourth straight start in goal for the Sabres, and his third this season against the Panthers. Miller has a record 1-1-0 versus Florida this season, with a 3.38 GAA and .908 save%. Florida will start 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom, who is 3-7-1 with 2.59 GAA and .921 save% in 11 games this season.
POOLSIDE IN FT. LAUDERDALE, FLA. – For the second time in a week, Thomas Vanek finds himself nursing an upper body injury that could keep him out of action. Vanek didn’t take part in today’s practice at the BB&T Center, and interim head coach Ron Rolston said he’s “potentially” available for Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
“He didn’t skate today. He’s got an upper body (injury), just a muscle strain,” explained Rolston. “We’ll see tomorrow, see how he’s doing at the (morning) skate and go from there. He’s still pretty sore today, so we’ll see how he feels if he can get out there tomorrow morning. If he can’t, he’ll be out.”
Vanek had 13:29 of ice time during Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Tampa, and left the game after playing just one shift at the beginning of the third period. This injury comes just a week after Vanek had to miss the game against Toronto on March 21, after absorbing a slap shot in the hip from teammate Christian Ehrhoff in Montreal two nights earlier. It’s not known if this injury is related to that.
LISTEN TO ROLSTON AUDIO
Regardless of Vanek’s playing status on Thursday, Rolston did confirm that winger Drew Stafford will return to the lineup after spending the last two games in the press box as a healthy scratch. Rolston hopes the two-game hiatus can serve as a wake-up call for Buffalo’s assistant captain and what he can bring to this team.
“With Drew, we just want him to go out there and make things happen for our team; lead the way for us. He’s in that position because he earned it, and that’s what he’s gotta do. Just lately it’s been a reminder of the things he’s gotta get back to more than anything,” explained Rolston. “And that’s for all of our guys. They just can’t take for granted they’re going to be in the lineup. We need them to play a certain way. For Drew, a large part of that is just leading the way; being a leader out there for us. I expect he’ll come back and play really well for us.”
The NHL’s off-ice officials crew in Tampa experienced some system issues on Tuesday, and that created havoc with the in-game scoring. Shots on goal were an issue right away, at one point reading “0-0” in the first period, despite the fact the Lightning held a 1-0 lead. Several penalties and plus/minus stats were also affected, until the crew was finally able to update the system hours after the game. The official stats now list Tampa as outshooting Buffalo 25-14 on the night, including a 16-5 run in the second period.
TAMPA – Since it ain’t broke right now, Ron Rolston sees no need to fix the Sabres lineup. Buffalo will employ the same roster as Saturday when they look for their fourth straight win tonight in Tampa (7:30 p.m., MSG).
Drew Stafford will be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game along with John Scott, and defenseman Andrej Sekera will miss his fifth straight game with an upper body injury. Rolston said that Sekera is “real close” to returning, but wouldn’t confirm if he’d be ready for Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
Sekera’s absence will give rookie Mark Pysyk another chance to play (paired with Jordan Leopold), and Rolston said he’s been impressed with how his defensemen have performed as a group in recent games.
“We’re happy with the way our guys played in Montreal, especially our ‘D’ corps has been building some chemistry, so we like where they’re at. We’re gonna stick with that same corps tonight.”
Ryan Miller gets the start in goal for the Sabres tonight. In his career, Miller is 19-7-0 against the Lightning, with a 2.68 GAA and .908 save%.
The Lightning are expected to counter with Mathieu Garon, who has only posted three wins in 13 games this season – with all three wins coming against the Carolina Hurricanes. Garon is 4-8-0 all-time against Buffalo with 2.82 and .901 save%. Garon’s last shutout was a 3-0 blanking of the Sabres in Tampa on October 22, 2011.
TAMPA – Anyone that watched Saturday’s 2-1 in Montreal knows goaltender Ryan Miller definitely earned his first star status that night. Miller made 38 saves in the victory, including 15 saves in the final period. Miller frustrated Montreal shooters all night long – just ask Tomas Plekanec. The Canadiens center recorded a game-high eight shots without scoring a goal, with five of those shots coming in the final period as Montreal looked to tie the score.
But a deeper look at the game sheet revealed some startling numbers. The Canadiens may have recorded 39 shots on goal, but they attempted a whopping 85. Buffalo blocked 31 additional Montreal shot attempts, and the Canadiens failed to hit the net on 15 others. As a comparison, the Sabres had 31 shot attempts – 18 shots on goal, nine blocks and just four misses.
AUDIO: RON ROLSTON TALKS ABOUT SHOT BLOCKING
Mike Weber led the way for Buffalo with eight shot blocks, one shy of the nine recorded by the entire Montreal team. (Weber is currently second with on the Sabres in both shot blocks (56) and hits (80) through 26 games this season.) Christian Ehrhoff added to his team-leading 61 shot blocks with four more on Saturday, and Robyn Regehr also chipped in four. Jochen Hecht and Tyler Ennis each had three shot blocks to lead all Buffalo forwards.
And as the going got tough on Saturday, the Sabres got blocking. Buffalo had six blocks in the first, followed by periods of 13 and 12. And in fitting fashion, Weber blocked his final shot of the game – on Montreal’s last attempt. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, and Montreal had pulled Carey Price for the extra attacker, Weber got a piece of Andrei Markov’s shot from the left wing with his outstretched stick to preserve the one-goal win.
MONTREAL – The season of frustration continues for Drew Stafford tonight, as he will be a healthy scratch when the Sabres face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Stafford has just four goals and 11 points in 31 games, and says he understands the decision made by interim head coach Ron Rolston to have him watch from the press box.
“I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but it’s definitely disappointing,” said Stafford following the morning skate. “It’s his decision, and something I have to respect. I have to work my way back to get in the lineup. It’s no secret I haven’t been getting on the scoresheet, but other than that it’s pretty simple.”
Rolston said there wasn’t any kind of message attached to Stafford’s benching.
“It’s just a coach’s decision,” explained Rolston. “We want everyone to play, and to play hard. We’ve got a lot of guys; we’ve got some tough decisions right now. It was just a decision.”
Thomas Vanek skated again today, and will return to the lineup after missing Thursday’s game with a hip injury. Nathan Gerbe will also be back after being a healthy scratch against Toronto. Andrej Sekera remains out with an upper body injury, and John Scott will join Stafford as Buffalo’s other healthy scratch.
Ryan Miller gets the start in goal for the Sabres. In his career, Miller is 24-9-6 against Montreal, with a 2.30 GAA, .922 save% and three shutouts.
The Buffalo Sabres will be without their leading scorer tonight when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center (7 p.m.).
Thomas Vanek will miss the game with a lower body injury, after absorbing a slapshot from teammate Christian Ehrhoff on the hip during the second period of Tuesday’s win in Montreal. The NHL’s 10th-leading scorer left the game shortly afterwards but never returned.
Vanek hasn’t skated since Tuesday’s game, and interim head coach Ron Rolston said they’re hoping to get him back on the ice Friday. Rolston said Vanek remains a possibility for Saturday’s return match in Montreal.
Look for Drew Stafford to draw into Vanek’s spot on the second line with Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino, and John Scott will be inserted into the lineup on the fourth line with Jochen Hecht and Patrick Kaleta.
Andrej Sekera took part in today’s morning skate, but will join Vanek on the sidelines tonight, missing his third straight game with an upper body injury. Nathan Gerbe is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second game in a row.
Ryan Miller will be in search of his first win in almost three weeks tonight, while looking to add to his career-best numbers against the Maple Leafs. Miller is 28-15-1 all-time against Toronto, with a 2.45 GAA and .921 save percentage. The 28 wins and four shutouts Miller has posted against Toronto are his most versus any opponent.
MONTREAL – After hinting at it recently, interim head coach Ron Rolston has finally shuffled the deck on his forward lines, as the Sabres get set to face the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre.
The top line of Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville has been together since game one this season, but that won’t be the case tonight. Vanek has been dropped to the second line alongside Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino. The left wing spot on the top line will now be occupied by Steve Ott.
Patrick Kaleta returns to the lineup after being a much-publicized healthy scratch on Sunday in Washington, following the conclusion of his five-game suspension. Kaleta will man the right side of the fourth line with Jochen Hecht and Drew Stafford.
Coming off his 3-1 win over the Rangers at home last Tuesday, Jhonas Enroth gets the start in goal, as the Sabres prepare for a run of five games over the next 10 days. He's 2-0 in his career against the Habs with 2.42 GAA/.917 save% - with all that action coming at the Bell Centre.
WASHINGTON – Green may be the color of choice on St. Patrick’s Day, but Patrick Kaleta was definitely seeing red following today’s morning skate at the Verizon Center.
With Kaleta’s five-game suspension now over and having him eligible to return tonight, the rugged winger was expected to be back in the lineup when the Sabres face the Washington Capitals. But interim head coach Ron Rolston has decided to make Kaleta a healthy scratch, and will go with the same four forward lines that played together in Saturday’s 4-3 OT loss to Ottawa.
A visibly-frustrated Kaleta expressed his displeasure after getting some extra work in with the assistant coaches following the skate.
“I’m pissed off. I want to play. Especially after watching some things. Sitting there watching the game, I want to play.”
Kaleta wouldn’t elaborate on the reasons given to him by Rolston for being a healthy scratch.
“That’s between me and the coach. I have to listen to what he wants. Obviously I’m going to be pissed off for today; not be too pleasant. I’ll think about it, let it bother me for a little bit, and I’ll move on and prepare myself, because hopefully the team will want me back here in the next couple of games.”
Rolston said it was simply a matter of not wanting to tinker with four lines that he really likes right now.
“Up front we like our depth right now and there’s going to be some tough decisions,” explained Rolston. “Right now (Kaleta) is just going to have to work hard and see how it goes. As far as some of the line combinations right now, we kind of like the chemistry the guys are getting so we don’t really want to mess around a lot with that.”
Defenseman Andrej Sekera was injured during Saturday’s loss, and will not play tonight. Rolston said he is day-to-day, and wasn’t sure if he’d be available for Tuesday’s game in Montreal.
Needing another body on the blueline, the Sabres have recalled 2010 first-round pick Mark Pysyk from Rochester, and he’ll make his NHL debut tonight. Pysyk arrived in Washington this morning after playing back-to-back games with the Amerks – including Saturday in Toronto.
In 57 games with Rochester, the 21-year-old Pysyk has recorded 18 points (4+14) and 20 penalty minutes in his first AHL season, and is tied with Kevin Porter to lead all Amerks skaters with a plus-8 rating.
NEWARK, NJ – It’s been over a month since Jhonas Enroth last saw action, but he’ll be between the pipes tonight when the Buffalo Sabres (9-13-2) take on the New Jersey Devils (10-8-5) at the Prudential Center. These same two teams met last Saturday in Buffalo, with the Sabres claiming a 4-3 shootout win.
Enroth has only played in three games this season, with his last start coming on February 5 in Ottawa – a 4-3 loss to the Senators. The 24-year-old Enroth is 0-2-0 with a 4.73 goals against average and .847 save percentage this year.
Interim head coach Ron Rolston knows how important it is to get Enroth some playing time in this truncated season, especially after watching Ryan Miller play Buffalo’s last 14 games. He also knows how crucial it is for the Sabres to perform well in front of Enroth to help the young netminder gain some confidence, especially since he hasn’t posted a win since November 26, 2011 against Washington.
“Most importantly for us, we want to play well in front of Jhonas. All along since I’ve been here, our job is to make the goaltender’s game easier than it has been. Whether it’s Ryan or Jhonas, we want to do a good job in front of him, and be consistent, keep working on our game.
“That makes it easier on your goaltender; an easier night when you see more pucks. Not as many backdoor chances; just kind of clean things up that way. We would certainly like Jhonas to have success, that’s our game plan. But we want to make sure that we’re really solid in front of him.”
John Scott skated on a line with Mikhail Grigorenko and Drew Stafford during today’s skate, and appears to have sent Jochen Hecht to the press box as a healthy scratch. Rolston wouldn't confirm the move, but Hecht was part of a group of five players getting extra work after practice, joining: injured players Jordan Leopold and Ville Leino; suspended forward Patrick Kaleta, and defenseman Adam Pardy.
TJ Brennan will remain in the lineup on defense for the second consecutive game, and was paired with Mike Weber today. The other two defensive pairings were: Tyler Myers – Christian Ehrhoff; Andrej Sekera – Robyn Regehr.
The Sabres come into tonight’s game with a record of 3-1-1 in their last five games, while the Devils are 0-4-1. New Jersey is just 4-5-3 at home this season, and haven’t won a game at the Prudential Center since February 15 against Philadelphia.
Johan Hedberg is expected to get the start in goal for the Devils. In 20 career games against the Sabres, Hedberg is 12-3-4 with 2.83 GAA and .909 save% - along with one shutout.
NEWARK, NJ – Ville Leino has yet to play in a game for the Buffalo Sabres this season, but that could change very soon. The injured winger skated in full during Wednesday’s practice at the Prudential Center, and said he could be back in the lineup as soon as Sunday night in Philadelphia.
“I would say (next week) at the latest hopefully,” said Leino. “But we’ll see how it goes, today was a hard working day. Philly (on Sunday) would probably be one of the good options here.”
There were reports in early February that Leino’s hip injury would require season-ending surgery, but he said they didn’t alter his rehab at any point to speed the process up.
“It was more about time, and to get the inflammation out. And the treatments paid off. It’s one of those things that you never know what it’s going to be. I was feeling pretty good and hopefully we can continue with that.”
Jordan Lepold hasn’t played since February 17 after sustaining an upper-body injury during practice. He didn’t have a timetable for his return, only saying that he was progressing.
“It happened in practice, midway through practice. I ended up working through it the whole time and I don’t know if I did more damage or what. It just ends up being a slow process right now.”