With his NHL coaching debut now in the rearview mirror, Ron Rolston took to the practice ice with the Buffalo Sabres for the first time on Friday as the team skated at the Northtown Center in Amherst.
Following last night’s 3-1 loss in Toronto, Rolston and his assistants put their players through their paces, while also focusing on some areas of detail that he says need to be cleaned up quickly in order for the Sabres to get back on the winning track.
“There’s things in the hockey game where we don’t take care of situations in games. Last night, what happens when you’re on the road like that, you want to be able to go into the third period at 1-1. What happens right now with our hockey team is we’re the team that blinks first when you have a staredown,” explains Rolston. “In other words, the faceoff’s in the zone and we make a mistake in execution. The next thing you know it’s a 2-1 game going into the third.
“That’s part of the reason why things aren’t going the way they way we want them to go. It’s because there are times in a game when we execute for a very long period of time. But in this league, when you have a short span of a couple of shifts where you don’t execute, that can be the difference in a game. A lot of times it’s been the case here, and it was last night for us.”
It was a different style of practice that Jason Pominville has been used to for the past eight season, mainly because of the new voice in charge.
“We had to be focused on what he was saying. You’re used to be doing some drills, and obviously he’s bringing some new things that he wants to work on. Again, he doesn’t have much time; we don’t have that much practice time. But he’s trying to get as much as he can to us as quick as possible. Whether it’s by video or one the ice, I think that some adjustments are made.
There was a lot of emphasis on speed in today’s practice, and Pominville said that will be a key in executing Rolston’s plans for making the Sabres a faster team to play against on many levels.
“Not a quicker team speed wise, but a quicker team with our execution going north-south, and getting pucks deep behind their d-man and making them turn. I think from what I’ve seen so far that’s the biggest thing,” said Pominville. “I think sometimes we’re taking our time a little too much, and he’s really put the emphasis on get it going up ice quick and not hang on to it too long, creating more speed in our game.”
Ryan Miller was given the day off for rest after making his eighth straight start last night in Toronto… Jordan Leopold did not take part in practice, and Rolston said he’s still nursing an upper body injury… Rolston also said that defenseman Andrej Sekera is very close to a return to full health after suffering a charley horse against Boston last Friday.
Former head coach Lindy Ruff addressed the media briefly on Friday morning at First Niagara Center, following his dismissal on Wednesday. Click here to watch a replay of Ruff’s press conference.
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.
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.
Ville Leino did not take part in Saturday’s practice at First Niagara Center, and his status for Sunday’s home opener against Philadelphia is now questionable.
Head coach Lindy Ruff said the injury has been nagging at Leino for a few days, and he finally succumbed to it on Friday when he was forced to leave during practice. Leino will test the injury on Sunday morning, and Ruff said they’ll determine afterwards if he’s able to play.
LISTEN TO LINDY RUFF'S PRESS CONFERENCE
“My discussions with him are if he feels like he’s good, he’s ready to roll, then we’ll get him in. If not, then I’ll adjust the lineup.”
At today’s practice, Jochen Hecht took Leino’s spot on the line with rookie Mikhail Grigorenko and Steve Ott. The fourth line center position vacated by Hecht between John Scott and Patrick Kaleta was filled by Matt Ellis.
“The thought is Jochen can be there; we can bump Kaleta up. We’ve got a couple of options there. We can maneuver.”
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.
It’s only been a pair of practices and an intra-squad scrimmage, but rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko is already causing a buzz in Western New York.
The Sabres’ first pick (12th overall) in last June’s NHL Entry Draft had three quality scoring chances in Monday’s scrimmage at First Niagara Center, and was dishing passes as quickly as his jerseys were flying out of the Sabres Store. (The team store sold out of the 50 in-stock Grigorenko jerseys by mid-day Monday, and took orders for 100 more by the end of the game.) Grigorenko even drew the loudest ovation from the 10,175 fans in attendance at the scrimmage when he was introduced during the shootout.
Ville Leino is manning the right wing on Grigorenko’s line, with newcomer Steve Ott on the port side. Even after just a few days on the ice together, Leino already likes what he sees out of the crafty 18-year-old.
“He’s pretty calm with the puck, sees the ice well. A lot of young guys are a little nervous and they make fast decisions,” explains Leino. “But he’s able to hang on the puck a little bit, make a good play and give time to the other players.
“He’s like a lot of good Russian players; they disguise passes really well. He definitely has that touch that a lot of Russian players have. He’s one of those kind of guys I enjoy playing with because he likes to make plays.”
Prior to signing with Buffalo as a free agent last July, Leino spent the first three years of his career with the Red Wings and Flyers. Those experiences gave Leino the opportunity to play with some of the most talented players in the game – and he senses a similar early comfort level with Grigorenko and Ott.
“I always played with players like that in Detroit, and even in Philadelphia with guys like Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and sometimes (Claude) Giroux and (Mike) Richards,” says Leino. “That’s the kind of player I always wanted to play with; they’re fun to play with. Otter is, in a way, the same way because he makes a lot of plays. He’s in a bit of a different role, but it’s been fun to play with these guys.”
When asked who he’d compare Grigorenko to, it didn’t take long for Leino to come up with a name.
“He would be awful tough to compare with Pavel Datsyuk because he’s one of the best players, that I would say, ever played. But he’s definitely got some of that playmaking ability that guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg and Datsyuk have.”
The Sabres are back on the ice Wednesday for day four of their abbreviated training camp starting at 10:30 a.m. All practices this week are free and open to the public. Parking is also free in the First Niagara Center ramp. The Fan Appreciation Sale continues all week in the Sabres Store, with all merchandise available at 50% off.
Individual tickets for all Sabres home games this season are now on sale. The team announced late Monday that four games have already sold out: Jan. 20 vs. Philadelphia; Feb. 17 vs. Pittsburgh; Mar. 12 vs. NY Rangers; and Mar. 30 vs. Washington.
Blue/White Scrimmage: Monday, January 14, 2013 @ First Niagara Center
White 2 – Blue 1 (SO)
Attendance: 10, 175
D: Regehr-Myers, Leopold-Sekera, Brennan-Biega
D: Sulzer-Ehrhoff, Weber-McNabb, Pardy-Pysyk
-Mikhail Grigorenko went glove side on Ryan Miller but rang his shot off the post
-Alex Biega had the period’s only penalty.
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-Vanek was struck by a Myers point shot while standing in front of the as the period ended.
-Grigorenko nearly scored twice in the period. He was robbed by Miller’s left toe on a partial breakaway after a great stretch pass from Enroth early in the period, then was stopped again later on a one-timer from the slot.
-Pardy, McNabb and Hecht each took penalties.
-Biega hit in face by puck after blocking Foligno shot.
-Enroth with a flashy glove save in tight on Stafford midway through the period.
-Grigorenko hit hard in the corner by Pardy, but gets up and almost converts scoring chance on pass through slot from Leino that ends up in his feet.
-Scott assessed the only penalty of the period.
-Myers has best scoring chance of OT, but tips Sundher’s shot just wide of the net before time expires.
SHOOTOUT: 1-0 White
Blue: Ennis, Stafford, Hecht, Flynn, Foligno, Kaleta
White: Pominville, Vanek, Grigorenko, Leino, Ott, Hodgson (goal)
Nine afternoon games and nine back-to-back sets highlight Buffalo’s 2013 schedule that was released on Saturday night. Here’s a look inside the numbers on Buffalo’s abbreviated season that will see them play 48 games in a 97-day sprint from Sunday, January 20 to Friday, April 26.
Games by month
January: 7 games/12 days (3 home/4 away)
February: 14 games/28 days (7 home/7 away)
March: 15 games/31 days (6 home/9 away)
April: 12 games/26 days (8 home/4 away)
Back-to-back games: 9
-Home/Home: 2 (Mar. 30-31; Apr. 13-14)
Number of times Sabres will play…
-2 games in 3 days: 27
-3 games in 4 days: 10
-4 games in 7 days from Sun-Sat: 7
Afternoon games: 9
Home: 7 (Jan. 20; Feb. 3; Feb. 17, Mar. 2; Mar. 16; Apr. 13; Apr. 14)
Road: 2 (Jan. 27; Feb. 2)
Games by days of the week
Tuesday: 11 (on 11 straight Tuesdays from Jan. 29-Apr. 9)
Wednesday: 1 (only Wed. game is Apr. 17)
Longest break: 3 days (2x: March 13-15; April 23-25)
Most consecutive home games: 3 (2x: Feb. 15-19; Apr. 11-14)
Most consecutive road games: 4 (Mar. 3-10)
Going even deeper into the numbers…
18.8: percentage of Sabres schedule that will be played in the afternoon
22.9: percentage of games played on Tuesdays
41.7: percentage of games played on Sat & Sun
52.1: percentage of games played between Fri-Sun
70.8: percentage of games played between Thurs-Sun
Buffalonians are used to packing into hockey rinks, especially in the middle of winter. So it should come as no surprise that on this drizzly, Friday morning in January, an estimated crowd of 300 fans jammed their way inside a rink at the Northtown Center in Amherst to watch a group of Buffalo Sabres take part in an informal workout for just over an hour.
The star attraction for these hockey-starved fans on this day was goaltender Ryan Miller, skating with his Sabres teammates for the first time since making his way across the country from his offseason home in California on Thursday. The crowds at Northtown Center have continued to swell throughout the week, and that came as no surprise to Miller.
“It was nice to see them. Buffalo is such a great sports city and a big hockey city. I can’t imagine being a fan and not having that outlet,” said Miller. “For me, being a fan, it was hard not to have (hockey) on TV. I try to check out games; watch to see how players are doing. I tried to tune in to some of the World Junior stuff, and if there was a random game on the satellite I’d try to catch it.”
Training camps across the NHL are expected to get underway this weekend, leaving players in the unique position of having less than a week to get into game shape for the truncated 48-game schedule that begins on January 19.
Miller was one of the players who decided to not sign anywhere during the lockout, opting to stay home and workout on a regular basis with other players in the Los Angeles area. Despite the belief that game-tested players will have an advantage, Miller thinks the playing field will level out quickly.
“Game shape is the key thing. Just gonna have to jump into it. No one is going to have an advantage, I don’t think. Even guys playing in other leagues; it’s a different pace and there’s a time change for them coming back. The American League guys…they might have a little bit of something going. But I think when the NHL boys get up to speed, it’ll all even out.”
After playing a high-profile role during part of the negotiations, Miller said it will nice to finally focus on hockey knowing there’s a goal light at the end of the tunnel. Like it was for most players, not having that carrot in front of them for the past few months sometimes made their daily routine monotonous.
“It’s gonna be different. This whole thing has been about sustaining. Everything about this year has been a false start. You got your hopes up around November, you got your hopes up around December, you got your hopes up towards the end of December. You’d try and ramp up for each of those. For me it was just about staying pretty level, skating three to four times a week at least.
“I feel that hockey-wise I’m in a pretty good spot. Mentally, I think I always kind of knew it was going to be a short, sprint kind of situation. It’s not a surprise for any of us. I don’t think it’s something you can use as a crutch or anything. Everyone is gonna go through it.”
Head coach Lindy Ruff said Wednesday that he could foresee Miller playing in the neighborhood of 36-38 games this season, but the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner said this is not something he’s spent a lot of time worrying about.
“I didn’t put any thought into a number. I thought I’d be ready to play, just get tapped on the shoulder and go about it that way,” Miller stated. “Just because, you’ve gotta have your best guys, and who’s ever playing the best, going. I just want to be that guy, and we’ll go by that. If I’m playing at a high enough level, I’d like to be in net.”
Defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Sulzer also were part of today’s skate for the first time, bringing the total of Sabres to 19. Injured forwards Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick were the only roster players to not take part in any of the skates at Northtown Center this week.