The past two days, the Buffalo Sabres have been able to take advantage of a rare break in the schedule to take on a pair of focused practice sessions.
On Monday, the team worked on defensive zone play and moving the puck up ice. Tuesday, their attention turned to the offense and the power play. Practice started with a three-on-three game in the neutral zone between the forwards with the nets turned along the boards.
Players appeared to be more vocal than in previous practices and coach Ron Rolston said fostering that type of environment is important.
“We tried to today to create different atmospheres for that,” he said after practice at First Niagara Center. “That’s our job to continue to do that and get that mindset in practice so they come out there and right away, they’re engaged in the practice so we don’t start slow.”
Slow starts have been an issue for the team this season. Through 10 games, they’ve been outshot 138-77 in first periods alone. Buffalo has been outshot 33-10 in the first period in each of their past two games as well.
“We’ve talked about it a lot. I think everyone’s aware of it now,” Rolston said. “It’s just being able to go out early on and do it. We talked about it today even at the start of practice. That’s why we started with a game today in practice. It’s been a focus of ours and it’s a mindset that the guys have to have.”
In addition to having better starts, the players are working on maintaining a positive outlook, despite the team’s 1-8-1 record.
“With a lot of young guys, we’ve just got to stick together,” Marcus Foligno said. “That’s the biggest thing. You can’t pout, get negative. It’s just going to spread and definitely take this team down even further. Right now, just stay positive. Get back to the basics and go from there.”
The first power-play unit featured a slightly different look as it featured four forwards. Foligno, Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis joined defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on the unit for special teams work. Foligno worked primarily as the center and Hodgson shifted in and out on the left point.
“It puts a little more onus on Ennis and myself to play defense if something breaks down, but that’s not a problem,” Hodgson said. “I think putting Marcus in the middle is going to help us because he’s got such a cannon of a shot. He’s going to pull guys to the middle more.”
Ville Leino skated again with the team. He’s still on the injured reserve list as he recovers from a cracked rib sustained on Oct. 2 and the coaching staff continues to monitor his progress.
“He looks like he’s moving around well right now,” Rolston said. “We haven’t had a lot of pounding yet, but that’s going to come, so we’re trying to get him in shape too, in terms of game shape and skating shape again.”
26 Thomas Vanek – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 82 Marcus Foligno – 63 Tyler Ennis
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 22 Johan Larsson – 65 Brian Flynn
32 John Scott – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 12 Kevin Porter
23 Ville Leino – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
78 Corey Tropp (non-contact)
A trio of injured players returned to practice for the Buffalo Sabres on Monday at First Niagara Center.
Ville Leino and Corey Tropp skated with the team for the first time in a few weeks. Cody McCormick was back on the ice as well as he recovers from a lower-body injury sustained while blocking a shot Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
Leino, who has been out since leaving the season opener on Oct. 2 with a cracked rib, was a full participant in practice and rotated in and out with McCormick on the fourth line during some drills. Tropp was limited and skated in a red non-contact jersey and a full face-shield as he recovers from a broken jaw.
“You want to be out there. You want to help the team. You want to see the team succeed so that hasn’t been a fun part, definitely,” Leino said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle here, so hopefully I can get back soon and help the team.”
Leino, currently on the injured reserve list, said he's day-to-day and hopes to be ready to go by the end of the week "at the latest." Sabres coach Ron Rolston said Leino’s return date hinges on how he practices moving forward and how he responds to contact.
McCormick is in a similar spot, according to Rolston. McCormick did not play Saturday against Colorado.
“He’s in the same boat,” Rolston said. “He still has a lot of soreness and stiffness and stuff, so we’re monitoring him too.”
The practice was the first for Tropp since he broke his jaw in a fight with Toronto’s Jamie Devane in a preseason game on Sept. 22.
“That’s part of the game,” Tropp said of the fight. “It happens. Obviously he got the better half of me on that one, but it is what is. He’s a good player and that’s all it is.”
Tropp said he had his jaw wired shut for 10 days after the fight, but has been skating and working out for the last 2.5 weeks. Rolston said Tropp is likely a few weeks away from being cleared for contact.
Rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was back at practice with the Sabres, too. He was sent down to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League a few hours before Buffalo’s game on Saturday and was officially recalled Monday morning.
Ristolainen’s recall puts the Sabres one player over the 23-man roster limit. Rolston said a roster move is coming and it’s likely someone would be put on the injured reserve list.
Patrick Kaleta was absent as well as he appeals his 10-game suspension.
26 Thomas Vanek – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 82 Marcus Foligno – 63 Tyler Ennis
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 22 Johan Larsson – 65 Brian Flynn
12 Kevin Porter – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 8 Cody McCormick / 23 Ville Leino
78 Corey Tropp
After an hour-long practice at First Niagara Center, the Sabres huddled up at center ice. It looked like practice was about to wrap up, but then rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen stood up, skated to the middle of the circle and started dancing.
When he went to back to take a knee, rookie center Johan Larsson skated in and took a turn, receiving stick taps from his teammates.
“Sometimes you just have to add something that loosens things up,” goaltender Ryan Miller said after practice. “Everybody can recognize it’s a little tense here, so it’s a fun chance to embarrass the rookies. At any turn, we’re going to take advantage of that. You only get one crack at them when they’re rookies, so you’ve gotta do it.”
WATCH: ROOKIE DANCE-OFF
The Sabres are 1-7-1 this season and coming off a 3-0 shutout loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Co-captain Steve Ott said that having moments like that after practice are important, especially for the younger players.
“The ups and downs are what you try to get out of your game. Obviously around here anytime you’re losing or not having success, it’s hard times,” he said. “You need things to kind of pick your spirits up and we have so many young guys in this dressing room that we try to continue to keep the mood light.”
So which rookie had the best dance routine? Tyler Ennis’ vote went to Girgensons.
“He was a doing a little Miley Cyrus it looked like on skates,” Ennis said. “So that might be the first time that’s ever been done.”
WATCH: GIRGENSONS' DANCE
During practice, the Sabres focused on breakouts and moving the puck up the ice quickly. Keeping the puck out of their defensive zone will be a challenge against the next opponent, the Colorado Avalanche. Buffalo hosts Colorado on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Avalanche are tied for sixth in the League with 23 goals for.
TICKETS FOR SATURDAY VS. COLORADO
“It’s early in the season, but the changes have to be made and we made a little tweak on the neutral zone [entries] today,” Ennis said. “That’s hopefully going to get us a little bit more speed through the neutral zone.”
Cody McCormick did not skate and Sabres coach Ron Rolston said he was day-to-day. McCormick blocked a Jason Garrison slap shot during the game against the Canucks and was still feeling the effects of it.
Girgensons was a full-participant in practice after missing the game on Thursday. A puck deflected up and hit him near his left eye on Tuesday and stitches were required to repair the wound.
Swelling on the eye had come noticeably down by the time of practice on Friday. Rolston said Girgensons should be ready to go against the Avalanche on Saturday.
WATCH: RYAN MILLER INTERVIEW
Zadorov practiced with the team as he recovers from a lacerated finger he sustained in the preseason. Rolston said they would like to use the 18-year-old Russian defenseman in a game before making the decision to send him back to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League or not.
As for when that first NHL game might come for Zadorov, Rolston said “anytime is possible for him.”
On Thursday, before a home game against the Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth participated in a #SabresTwitterview on the official Sabres Twitter account.
The #SabresTwitterview is a weekly interview with Sabres players answering fan questions on Twitter. You can find last week's Twitterview with Cody Hodgson here.
Read Enroth's responses below:
Probably the 1st tournament I played in, and we actually won. I think the final was 16-1. Probably my 1st memory as a kid. -JE #AskJhonas— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 17, 2013
Just attention to details, I think. Don't leave anything up for granted, and work hard. -JE #AskJhonas— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 17, 2013
I guess it's more of a reflex now, but I put all my equipment on my right side first, and I tap the post a certain way. -JE #AskJhonas— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 17, 2013
A lot, especially preparing for games & practices. What really got me when I came up here was seeing Ryan work hard during practice too. -JE— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 17, 2013
Really good. Ristolainen is already playing like a veteran. All the other guys are young too and playing very good. -JE #AskJhonas— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 17, 2013
I'm trying to stay alert & still have a good focus during the game. Trying to see how opposing players like to shoot & where. -JE #AskJhonas— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 17, 2013
Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta faces a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday.
Under review is a play that occurred Thursday night in which Kaleta hit Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson along the boards inside the Buffalo zone at 3:10 of the first period. No penalty was assessed for the hit, but Kaleta dropped the gloves with Jared Boll immediately after and received a fighting major.
Kaleta did not practice with the team at First Niagara Center, but Sabres coach Ron Rolston said that was more because of an injury. After the fight, Kaleta played much of the game on Thursday with a full face shield.
Rolston said Kaleta had a “couple loose Chiclets and things like that to be cleaned up.” Kaleta would have been healthy enough to play against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.
A pending suspension would obviously make him unavailable.
“The League’s going to take care of that. It was a hit and they’re concerned with it so they’ll take a look at it and go from there,” Rolston said. “So he will have a hearing and see what comes of it.
Cody Hodgson also did not participate. The coaching staff gave him a maintenance day and Rolston said there’s no concern about Hodgson’s lower-body injury becoming a lingering one.
Henrik Tallinder skated in a red non-contact jersey and he will not be available Saturday.
“He’s starting to shoot a little more. We know it was going to be each day evaluating what he can do and now he’s able to do some more shooting and stuff so I’d imagine Monday he’ll be back in there [against Minnesota],” Rolston said.
The Sabres did not practice any line drills Friday, but some of the defensive pairings were flipped. Alexander Sulzer was paired with Tyler Myers for much of the session. Christian Ehrhoff worked with Mark Pysyk, Jamie McBain skated with Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov and Mike Weber were a tandem.
Sulzer may see game action soon. He was recalled on Saturday from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League after Tallinder sustained his injury and has yet to make his season debut.
“We’ll see. He’s practiced real well,” Rolston said of Sulzer. “I mean, he’s one of the best puck movers we have, passers, so [it’s] quite possible.
Forwards: 8 Cody McCormick, 9 Steve Ott, 12 Kevin Porter, 21 Drew Stafford, 22 Johan Larsson, 25 Mikhail Grigorenko, 26 Thomas Vanek, 28 Zemgus Girgensons, 32 John Scott, 63 Tyler Ennis, 65 Brian Flynn, 82 Marcus Foligno.
Injured: 20 Henrik Tallinder
Cody Hodgson participated in this season's first Twitterview, which you can read below.
So much. His ability to create plays and to find openings on the ice is uncanny. He's always open. -CH #AskCody— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 9, 2013
Pretty much what they make at the rink. Carol's a good cook. I stick to chicken, brown rice, and some pasta sauce with a salad. -CH #AskCody— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 9, 2013
I wear the #19 because I was a big Stevie Yzerman fan growing up. Someone I always looked up to on and off the ice. -CH #AskCody— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 9, 2013
Whatever's on in the room. I'm not too picky. I like country music, rock music, Christian music…I like everything. -CH #AskCody— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 9, 2013
No. I'm not superstitious at all. -CH #AskCody— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 9, 2013
Ryan Miller was back on the ice as a full participant in practice Wednesday morning at First Niagara Center.
The Buffalo Sabres goaltender did not dress against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and served as the backup on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning due to a lower-body injury. Jhonas Enroth started in his place, going 0-1-1 with a .912 save percentage and a 2.95 goals against average.
Miller took part in the morning skate on Tuesday, but Wednesday marked his first practice with the team since sustaining the injury.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston said after practice that Miller is healthy and available to play when the Sabres host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
Miller told reporters that he that he feels good and hopes he can pick up where he left off before the injury. In his two starts this season, Miller stopped 77 of 80 shots.
“I knew it was pretty minor. I was just being cautious. Jhonas was going to play in Pittsburgh anyways so I just took that opportunity to rest completely and guarantee some rest,” Miller said. “It just lingered a little longer and I wanted to make sure I clear up any issues because if you don’t take care of it the right way, it turns into weeks. Now we’re in a case where I only really missed one game in the schedule. Hopefully I get back in the rhythm where I was at and I’ll go again.”
Cody Hodgson was given another maintenance day and did not skate. Rolston said on Monday that Hodgson is day-to-day with a lower body. Hodgson played against Tampa Bay on Tuesday despite not practicing on Monday and scored his first goal of the season. Rolston said he’ll be in the lineup on Thursday against Columbus.
With Hodgson’s absence from practice, Mikhail Grigorenko centered the top line with co-captains Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott. Grigorenko bounced around on a few lines against the Lightning and played 8:07 in the game.
Rolston had commented last week that Girgorenko’s compete level was getting closer to where the coaching staff would like it to be. He reiterated that on Tuesday.
“It’s getting there, but it needs to continue to improve, I think,” Rolston said. “That’s that last hurdle for him and that’s something that he’s got to work on.”
The Sabres have quite a few options at the center position and it’s likely the lineup will change based on the opponent.
Tyler Ennis remains in the middle and practiced with wings Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno. On the third line at practice, Johan Larsson served as the pivot for Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Flynn. Larsson was a healthy scratch last game. Kevin Porter and Cody McCormick rotated a bit down the middle on the fourth line alongside John Scott and Patrick Kaleta.
“Right now it’s just building up what we feel center-wise will be good matchup situations,” Rolston said. “You go into last night [against Tampa Bay], you’ve got [Steven] Stamkos, [Valtteri] Filppula and Tyler Johnson, who was the American Hockey League Most Valuable Player as their three centers. We were trying to make some adjustments there and moving [Ennis] to center helps us a bit there to be a little stronger in that spot.”
Rolston gave no indication as to which players might be out of the lineup against Columbus.
One player that could possibly play on Thursday is rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov. He practiced with the team for the first time since cutting his finger while blocking a shot in the team’s final preseason game on Sept. 27.
Zadorov is eligible to go back to juniors, but Rolston said there’s a possibility they could keep him in Buffalo a little while longer.
“He would be available if we wanted to keep him here. We have to make that decision,” he said.
Henrik Tallinder could be back for the team’s game in Chicago on Saturday, according to Rolston. Tallinder sustained an upper-body injury in the home opener on Friday. Rolston said he’s been skating in the mornings but he has yet to put in a practice with the team.
26 Thomas Vanek – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 9 Steve Ott
82 Marcus Foligno – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 22 Johan Larsson – 65 Brian Flynn
32 John Scott – 12 Kevin Porter / 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
Foligno has yet to play this season after sustaining an upper-body injury on Sept. 22 in an exhibition game against Toronto. He was a full participant in practice at First Niagara Center on Monday.
“This is a time to really establish myself and help out the team and hopefully tomorrow’s a big game for myself and for the team,” Foligno said after practice. “We need to get it back on track here and we really can’t let games slide.”
Miller did not dress in the loss on Saturday in Pittsburgh due to a lower-body injury. He did not practice on Monday and Rolston wasn’t sure if he’ll be ready for Tuesday. His status will depend on his on-ice workouts leading up to the game.
“We’re going to see. He’s going to let us know where he’s at and we’ve got pregame skate tomorrow too,” Rolston said. “He’s close. It’s just how he’s moving out there.”
Cody Hodgson also did not skate. Rolston said he has a lower-body injury, but doesn’t expect him to miss any more time.
“Cody is just kind of day to day, basically. Today was kind of a maintenance [day] for him,” Rolston said. “He should be back in there tomorrow.”
The Sabres focused on passing drills and power-play work at practice. Buffalo is 0-for-13 with the man advantage through three games and Rolston wants to see his team get more pucks to the net. He said he liked what he saw from the power play in practice on Monday.
“It’s hockey school stuff, but we need to get better with our hands right now,” Rolston said. “A portion of our problems, even in our zone, is just making a pass and catching a pass to get out of the zone. That’s part of it and that’s why we worked on [the passing drills].”
26 Thomas Vanek – 63 Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 12 Kevin Porter – 65 Brian Flynn
22 Johan Larsson – 8 Cody McCormick – 36 Patrick Kaleta
What’s another rookie in the lineup?
Sabres coach Ron Rolston said after practice at First Niagara Center on Thursday that Ville Leino is out indefinitely with a cracked rib and that rookie Johan Larsson will step in to pivot the team’s second line Friday night in the home opener against Ottawa.
Leino sustained the injury early on in the team’s 2-1 loss in Detroit on Wednesday. He did not skate with the team on Thursday.
“It happened in the first period, probably about three or four shifts in,” Rolston said. “It was just sore and obviously overnight, it seized up and had it checked.”
Tyler Ennis will slide over to the wing to make room for Larsson. Steve Ott will be on the other side. Larsson was a healthy scratch against Detroit and Rolston said he’s very excited to see what the young center can do.
“He’s got a good opportunity. I like everything about him. I like his attitude, the way we works, his preparation,” Rolston said. “He’s a good detail player, but this will give him a good opportunity to play with some good players and show us what we can do.”
Larsson, acquired as part of the package from the Minnesota Wild at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline for Jason Pominville, has played in only one NHL game. He’ll join Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen and Brian Flynn as players in the lineup with less than 30 NHL games played.
“[Larsson is] another young guy in the lineup and I think it’s a good thing because I think he’s ready and now it’s just gaining those experiences in the League like our younger players did last night,” Rolston said. “He needs to be put into game situations and get in there.”
Marcus Foligno was a participant in practice for the first time since straining his upper-body in an exhibition on Sept. 22. Still wearing a red non-contact jersey, he was able to work out in some drills with the team.
He said there’s a slim chance he’ll be able to play this weekend against Ottawa on Friday and in Pittsburgh on Saturday. It’s more likely he’ll be ready by the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. Rolston agreed with that assessment.
“Being able to shoot and stickhandle and kind of get power on your shot is good. Right now, I’m day-to-day. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” he said.
Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Brian Flynn, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Cody Hodgson, Patrick Kaleta, Johan Larsson, Cody McCormick, Steve Ott, Kevin Porter, John Scott, Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek
Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston said after practice Tuesday at First Niagara Center that forward Marcus Foligno will not play in the team's season opener against Detroit.
Foligno sustained an upper-body strain in a preseason game on Sept. 22 against Toronto and has not participated in a full practice since. He's worked with the team's power play units the last few days before the rest of the team has taken the ice but has done so while sporting a red non-contact jersey.
He may miss the games over the weekend against Ottawa on Friday and in Pittsburgh on Saturday as well.
Here's what Rolston had to say on Folgino's status:
"He’s been skating. We’ve been trying him every morning, so I don’t know. It would be hard now. Possibly on the weekend, but it’s not a for-sure thing.
"He’s been going out in the morning and trying it and it’s just not where it needs to be to put him in that situation where if he gets bumped or anything like that to set him back further. So we want him back in the lineup, but we want to make sure that when he’s back, he’s healthy and we don’t put him in any situation where he could further injure something."