Just when you thought things couldn’t any worse for the Buffalo Sabres, you can now add Thomas Vanek to the list of the team’s walking wounded. Vanek was one of several Sabres that didn’t take part in Buffalo’s practice at First Niagara Center today, before they boarded a short flight to Canada’s capital for a Tuesday night meeting with the Ottawa Senators.
After being dealt another three injuries on Saturday, combined with a minor league affiliate returning home from a three-game Texas road trip, the team couldn’t even ice four full practice lines this morning. With Tyler Ennis (ankle) and Colin Stuart (knee) now out of the lineup, that meant one of today’s lines consisted of Brad Boyes, Marc-Andre Gragnani and…nobody.
“It’s dire here. It’s probably even worse in Rochester,” said Lindy Ruff. “I’ve never seen anything like it really. Hopefully we can start getting a few bodies back. It looks now like Brad Boyes will be the first one we could get back. It’s tough, but you’ve gotta find ways to win games.”
Two players are expected to be recalled from Rochester for Tuesday's game, but Ruff said they hadn't determined yet who they would be.
** UPDATE (6:50 p.m.) -- Marcus Foligno and Derek Whitmore have been recalled from Rochester. **
Ruff updated the status of a few of the injured Sabres:
- Brad Boyes (ankle): Although he skated well in a non-contact role today, he will not be available on Tuesday. “I thought he made out well, it was encouraging. I wouldn’t have said this before practice, but maybe there’s a chance for Thursday.”
- Tyler Ennis (ankle): “Tyler tried to skate this morning and couldn’t go, so he won’t be available.”
- Patrick Kaleta (lower body): “We’ll find out today. I don’t think it was a big step back. We’ve really nailed it down; it’s a little more definitive now. He could be good by the end of the week.”
Hard to believe that it’s taken this long, but the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs will finally meet for the first time this season tomorrow night at First Niagara Center. In fact, Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team the Sabres have yet to play this season.
But despite all their success this season, the Maple Leafs have struggled mightily against Buffalo over the past six seasons. The Sabres are 29-12-1 against the Maple Leafs since the lockout. The 29 wins are Buffalo’s highest win total against one team during this time, ahead of Boston (27) and Montreal (24). After dropping a 2-1 decision at home to the Leafs on February 16 of last season, Buffalo will look to avoid consecutive home losses to Toronto for the first time since March 21/December 12, 2008.
Toronto’s power play success this season could also come to a screeching halt tomorrow night. Not only do the Sabres have the league’s seventh-best penalty killing unit (86.4%, 95/110), they have killed off their last 47 penalties against Toronto. The streak spans 13 games, dating back to March 27, 2009 when Nikolai Kulemin scored at 8:30 of the 3rd period. At 13 games, it’s also the longest active streak in the NHL.
Ryan Miller has posted some gaudy career numbers against the blue and white, going 24-11-0 all-time with a 2.28 GAA and a .928 SV%. He has more wins (24) and shutouts (4) against the Maple Leafs than any other team in the league, and his .928 save percentage is his best against any team that he’s played more than six times. Miller’s 24 career wins against the Maple Leafs lead all active goaltenders.
The Buffalo Sabres injury carousel added another passenger today as head coach Lindy Ruff announced after practice that Ville Leino is expected to miss several weeks with a lower body injury.
Ruff said the injury took place in last night’s 3-2 overtime loss to Ottawa, but didn’t provide any specific details. Leino had 14:49 of ice time in 16 shifts, but remained on the bench throughout the entire game. His final shift lasted 56 seconds and ended at 18:59 of the third period. Leino played seven shifts in the first period, five in the second and just four in the third.
Tyler Myers said the rehab for his broken wrist is progressing well, and he would like to return to the lineup before the Christmas break if possible. Myers injured the wrist against Phoenix on November 19. He will be reevaluated by doctors on Friday and Monday, and a decision regarding his playing status will be made at that time. He has been skating and doing some light puckwork, and is now able to start getting more involved in practices.
Ruff wasn’t as optimistic about Jochen Hecht coming back to the lineup anytime soon.
“Jochen still can’t do anything so he’s going to be a while,” said Ruff.
When asked if Hecht may have broken a bone when he blocked a shot against Florida last Friday, Ruff wouldn’t elaborate on the extent of Hecht’s injury.
“It’s a little more complicated than that. It’s not really a broken bone, but it’s a little more complicated.”
Brad Boyes has started skating again, but is weeks away from returning to the lineup. He’s still experiencing some soreness in his right ankle, and doesn’t have a timetable as to when he’ll be back practicing with the team. Boyes suffered a high ankle sprain against Boston on November 23. This is the first time Boyes has missed any time due to injury. At the time of his injury, Boyes was among the NHL leaders with a consecutive games played streak of 513 games.
Sabres prospect Mark Pysyk was today named to Canada’s 22-man roster for the 2012 World Junior Championship that will take place December 26-January 5 in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. Pysyk was selected 23rd overall in the 2010 Entry Draft, and is currently in his fourth full season with the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings. The 19-year-old defenseman has 18 points (2+16) and 47 penalty minutes in 25 games so far this season.
Pysyk was one of two Sabres prospects invited to Canada’s selection camp. Defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc (2010, 3rd round, 68th) currently leads all CHL defensemen in scoring with 47 points (18+29) in 31 games with Rimouski of the QMJHL, but he was cut on Tuesday.
It’s only mid-December, but the Buffalo Sabres are about to begin as important a 10-day stretch of their schedule as they will face all season.
Starting tomorrow, four of Buffalo’s next five games are against their divisional and geographic rivals from Ottawa and Toronto. They will face each of them at home this week (Tues. vs. Ottawa; Fri. vs. Toronto), before heading out on the road next week for pre-Christmas tilts in their barns on Tuesday (Ottawa) and Thursday (Toronto). Sandwiched in between is a road game in Pittsburgh this Saturday.
Buffalo enters play today with sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference with 32 points. They are one point behind sixth-place Toronto, and two ahead of Ottawa in the 11th spot. In a conference that is clustered together worse than holiday shoppers in your local mall, the Sabres know they have to treat this stretch of games like a late season playoff run.
“It’s March all the time. You lose the points now, they’re hard to get later on,” says Thomas Vanek. “We definitely want to finish out good here before our little Christmas break. That’s definitely our focus.”
“They’re very important. It’s a big week for us,” Ruff stated today. “We’re getting a little bit healthier, and that’s a big plus for us. Ryan (Miller) is back, he’s healthier. I think we’ve got a lot of good things coming back into the fold, and it should be just a great, emotional week. You get to play the teams you like to hate. You get to play them in your division.”
It was uncharted territory for Paul Szczechura today, as he was finally able to take part in a full team practice for the first time this season. The 26-year-old Szczechura has played in four games during three separate recalls from Rochester, but in each case he’s never been around long enough to take part in anything more than pre-game warmups. Even during training camp, Szczechura was limited to non-contact drills because he was rehabbing from injury.
“It’s been different,” said Szczechura, who once again centered a line between Vanek and Jason Pominville. “It was good to get some reps in with those guys to see how they do things a little more. I think it’ll help build the chemistry a little bit.”
INJURY UPDATES: Ruff said that forwards Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta are close to returning, and he expects one or even both to be back sometime this week … Defenseman Mike Weber is also nearing a return, and Ruff wouldn’t rule him out as a possibility for tomorrow's game against Ottawa … Tyler Myers has been skating on his own, and has begun using his stick and handling the puck on a limited basis. While Ruff is encouraged by Myers’ progress, there’s still no timetable for his return. Myers broke his wrist on November 19 in the second period of a game against Phoenix. The original prognosis called for a 4-6 week recovery process.
The NHL has handed down their ruling, and Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo has received a two-game slap on the wrist for running over Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller during the second period of Saturday’s game in Nashville. Tootoo received a charging major and game misconduct on the play. This was Miller’s first game back in goal after suffering a head/neck injury in Boston on November 12 during a collision with Milan Lucic.
Here’s the video explanation of Tootoo’s suspension from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan:
This is not the first time Tootoo has been suspended by the NHL. In March 2007, he received five games for a reckless punch to the face that left Stephane Robidas of the Dallas Stars laying unconscious and concussed on the ice. However in this case, Shanahan said the league took into account that Tootoo had not been assessed any supplemental discipline in the past four years.
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff had already completed his media availability prior to the suspension being announced this afternoon. We’ll have his reaction following Wednesday’s morning skate at First Niagara Center. Ruff said yesterday he hoped to see a “strong message” from the league in regards to the suspension. “It’s just time; I hope they do the right thing with it,” he said.
Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia is the start of five consecutive games at home for the Sabres. They have won just once in their past six on home ice, and have compiled a 6-8-1 record at First Niagara Center so far this season.
Captain Jason Pominville says part of the team’s success will be derived from their tenacity in the one-on-one battles during a game, something that Ruff focused heavily on during today’s practice at the Northtown Center in Amherst.
“It’s kind of like what Detroit did to us when they came into our barn,” Pominville explained. “They were hard on pucks, and turned their backs and made some good plays. That’s kind of what we want to do. We want to be better at home in this little stretch that we have here.”
Cody McCormick passed his baseline test, and could be available for tomorrow’s game … Joe Finley has been recalled from Rochester and will take the place of Jordan Leopold (upper body) in the lineup.
Jochen Hecht was back on the ice today centering a line with Pominville and Thomas Vanek. The other lines today were: Drew Stafford-Derek Roy-Tyler Ennis; Ville Leino-Luke Adam-Zack Kassian. The fourth line featured Matt Ellis between Nathan Gerbe and a combination of McCormick and Corey Tropp.
The defense pairings were: Christian Ehrhoff-Marc-Andre Gragnani; Robyn Regehr-Andrej Sekera; Brayden McNabb-Finley. Leopold and Mike Weber participated in practice in non-contact roles.
It’s getting to the point where Lindy Ruff should open his daily media briefings wearing a lab coat and carrying a clipboard. The injury bug continues to ravage the Sabres lineup, with Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht being the latest casualties during Saturday’s 3-2 win in Nashville.
“You’d almost say that it becomes humorous, but it’s something that obviously we don’t take lightly,” said Ruff. “You go through some of the injuries, and some of them have been in really tough incidents for us. From Gerbe – he’ll be back – but that was a tough incident to lose him. Even the Myers play was tough. A guy falling on Brad Boyes, (Tyler) Ennis going into a post. We’ve had some incidents that really haven’t happened to us before. I think once we get by that and get healthy, we’ll be okay.”
- Gaustad: Suffered an upper body injury in the scrum following the Jordin Tootoo hit on Ryan Miller. He did not skate today, and a timetable for his return is unknown at this time.
- Hecht: Day-to-day with an upper body injury sustained on the last shift of Saturday’s game. Ruff said it’s not related to the concussion that caused Hecht to miss the first 20 games, and he has a shot to play on Wednesday.
- Cody McCormick: Hasn’t played since November 14 at Montreal. He’ll undergo post-concussion testing today, and is expected to get the green light to return for Wednesday's game against Philadelphia.
- Jordan Leopold : Missed the last two games with upper body. He skated today but is not expected to return Wednesday.
Ruff has seen enough of Tyler Ennis not shooting the puck, and it took a play in the second period on Saturday to send him over the edge. When Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback came all the way out to the blueline to play a loose puck, Ennis grabbed it and held on instead of advancing the puck towards the net.
Ruff wasn’t happy with the play and said as much to the young winger in between periods.
“I actually talked to him. I brought him in and said, ‘You’ve gotta start shooting. No more of the fiddling around with it and thinking about what you’re gonna do … you’re gonna go in and you’re gonna shoot.’ I broke it down this way: ‘You stickhandled 10 times when the goalie was out.’ From when he pulled up, he handled the puck over 10 times. By the time he handled it the last time, there were three guys playing goal. Just little areas like that, that’s not being on top of your game. That’s not playing the game quick enough.”
Ennis came into the game scoreless in eight games, but finally got off the schneid when he scored the game winner late in the third. Ruff has no doubt that his words were still echoing in Ennis’ mind.
“I think he made a decision in the third period that was aided, that he’s shooting the puck from now on. And he got rewarded. It’s that simple. We’ve gotta play the game quicker.”
If Zack Kassian’s recall last week would be considered “eagerly anticipated,” you can file Joe Finley’s in the “completely unexpected” category. Because that’s normally what happens when you start the season as a healthy scratch in the AHL after being a Sabres training camp invitee.
But Finley isn’t your run of the mill minor league recall. The 6-foot-8, 260-pound defenseman was a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2005, and played four years at the University of North Dakota. In his first professional season with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, Finley suffered a ruptured artery in his hand on an innocent play in the defensive zone when he was checking an opposition player.
The injury has limited Finley to just 69 professional games since then, including 26 at the AHL level with Hershey and now Rochester. In 18 games with the Amerks this season, Finley leads the team with 57 PIMs and a plus-10 rating, while adding one goal and one assist.
Finley, 24, started the season on an AHL deal, but was signed to an NHL contract by the Sabres on Monday. Three days later he finds himself preparing for his first NHL game on Friday night when Detroit comes to town. Finley knows what has worked for him in Rochester, and wants to play the same way in Buffalo.
“I really just took it upon myself to focus on the things I can control, and that’s trying to play a real simple, solid brand of hockey. I’ve been fortunate to do that so far. Things are moving in the right direction but there’s a long way to go to be here full time, that’s for sure.”
With Jordan Leopold out of the lineup recovering from an upper body injury, many would have assumed TJ Brennan and his offensive skills would’ve been a better fit as his replacement on the blueline. But Brennan also has an upper body injury, and Finley was the best man for the job in the eyes of Amerks coach Ron Rolston.
A native of Edina, Minn., Finley may not have the offensive numbers that Brennan does, but Lindy Ruff was very impressed with his skating during training camp.
“He was able to skate and make plays, and for a big man that’s always the challenge,” explains Ruff. “He skates very well, he’s able to handle the puck, and his first pass has been good. When you have that size and that reach, you’ve got an automatic advantage over a lot of players.”
INJURY UPDATES: Ryan Miller was going to undergo concussion testing today, and it looks like he will start one of the games this weekend … Drew MacIntyre has been returned to Rochester … Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain) skated on a line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford today. He is expected to be back in the lineup tomorrow against Detroit after missing the last 17 games … Patrick Kaleta (groin) got through practice without any problems, and his playing status for Friday will be determined after the morning skate. He has missed the last four games.
The look on Jochen Hecht’s face said it all. After weeks of stalled comeback attempts, the 34-year-old declared himself 100 percent healthy and available to play in Wednesday’s grudge match with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. It’s been a long road back for Hecht, who has yet to play this season after suffering a concussion on the second day of training camp in an innocent collision with teammate Shaone Morrisonn.
“I’m excited about it,” said a smiling Hecht this morning. “It’s been a long time. The last game was in the playoffs against Philly, so I’m excited to get out there and play.”
“It was getting frustrating. You’re close, you’re coming back, but you’re still not 100 percent. But like I said, that week really helped. The (chiropractic and active release) treatment right now is catching on and I feel 100 percent again.”
Hecht practiced at center today on a line with rookies Luke Adam and Corey Tropp, a trio that Hecht jokingly referred to as “two young kids and the old guy.”
Tyler Ennis didn’t skate today, and Lindy Ruff said his injured ankle had become sore due to the increased workload over the past few days. “Some of that can be expected,” said Ruff. “It tells us he’s not quite there yet.” … Ruff also said that while Ryan Miller is feeling better, he still isn’t symptom free … Patrick Kaleta was absent from practice with a maintenance day.
In Kaleta’s absence, today’s practice lines looked like this:
The red-hot Bruins come into Buffalo riding a nine-game winning streak, the longest such streak in the NHL this season. It’s a far cry from the 3-7 start they got off to, which everyone immediately credited to a Stanley Cup hangover. Well it appears that a few Tylenol and some Alka-Seltzer rid the B’s of that hangover because they’ve been on fire ever since. Check out some of these gaudy numbers from the current streak:
- This is Boston’s longest win streak since a 10-game stretch from Dec. 12, 2008-Jan. 1, 2009. They haven’t lost since a 4-2 setback in Montreal on October 29.
- They have outscored their opponents by a 43-14 margin, and have scored fewer than four goals just twice in the nine games (2-1 vs. Columbus on Nov. 17; 1-0 @ Montreal on Nov. 21). In their first 10 games, they scored just 22 goals and allowed 25.
- Boston’s goal differential of plus-26 is 11 more than second place Pittsburgh.
- Boston carries a 162:11 shutout streak into tonight’s game, with their last goal allowed being a Derek MacKenzie score on Tuukka Rask at 2:49 of the second period in the win over Columbus on Nov. 17
- The Bruins have scored 10 goals in their last 45 power play opportunities (22.2%), which snapped an 0-for-22 stretch after scoring on their first power play opportunity of the season.
MONTREAL – In the middle of a weekend stretch that has them playing three games over four nights in three different cities, the Buffalo Sabres opted to hold a team meeting rather than a full practice at the Bell Centre today. The team arrived in Montreal late Saturday night following a 6-2 loss in Boston to the Bruins. A handful of players took part in an optional skate afterwards, including injured forwards Tyler Ennis and Jochen Hecht.
The Sabres are back in action Monday here in Montreal against the Canadiens in a 7 p.m. start that will be televised nationally by Versus. They return home to the First Niagara Center on Wednesday to host the New Jersey Devils at 7:30 p.m. in another game that will also be on Versus.
In Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg, the Buffalo Sabres finished the night winning 50 of 75 faceoffs against the Jets. It was the highest single game total by the Sabres since the NHL started tracking faceoff stats in 1998, and the most by any team since Minnesota won 52 against Carolina on October 7, 2010.
Leading the way for Buffalo was the duo of Paul Gaustad (15-5) and Jason Pominville (12-2), who combined to go 27-7 in the game. The 12 wins were a career high for Pominville, who has quietly developed into one of the team’s most reliable faceoff artists.
Pominville is already at 52.4% (55/105) after 14 games this season, something that assistant coach Kevyn Adams credits to him simply being a good student of the game.
“Jason is very diligent about faceoffs,” explains Adams. “He works hard after practice, and studies a lot of video. He’s also very focused in the faceoff circle; he knows what he needs to do.”
Adams said Pominville’s success is a carryover from what they started last season, and he thinks it will only get better based on the early returns.
Having spent much of the year playing on a line with Luke Adam, the two have been splitting up a lot of the faceoff duties based on their strong side – Pominville is a right shot who excels on the right side, while Adam is a left-handed shot who takes most of the draws on the left side.
Pominville is quick to credit Adams and Gaustad for his continued faceoff development
“Having Paul and Kevyn here, being able to talk about it and practice them every day, I think it’s benefitted me. It’s an important part of the game – if you want to start with the puck you need to win faceoffs.”
INJURY UPDATES: After missing Wednesday’s practice with what he simply termed as a “maintenance day,” Tyler Myers was back on the ice today and expects to play Friday against Ottawa … Tyler Ennis skated today for about 30 minutes. Ruff said there wasn’t any agility skating involved, just several laps around the ice. His status remains week-to-week.