With another injury to deal with, the Buffalo Sabres looked to the waiver wire for a veteran player to fill the void.
Right wing Drew Stafford is expected to miss some time with an upper-body injury and the Sabres announced Friday afternoon that they had claimed center Zenon Konopka off of waivers from the Minnesota Wild.
Konopka is a 6-foot, 213-pound centerman who has won 65.7 percent of his faceoffs this season (157-82). He’s also not afraid to drop the gloves, having racked up 55 penalty minutes – including seven fighting majors – in 36 games. He has one goal and one assist on the year. He’s recorded 29 points (12+17) through 323 career games in the NHL.
With the move being announced during Buffalo's practice at First Niagara Center, Konopka was obviously not with the team Friday.
Konopka was waived by the Wild because the team needed to make room for a third goaltender on the roster after Josh Harding had to miss the game against the Sabres on Thursday due to illness. Wild coach Mike Yeo explained the team’s reasoning that afternoon after the roster move had been made.
“We had to make a move to get a goalie up here and that was the decision,” Yeo said “You look at the way our lines are right now, this wasn’t just an impulse thing where we said, ‘OK, let’s construct our lines like this.’ We want to give it a real chance to work and we think it can work with the four centermen that we have and that kind of puts Z on the outside a little bit there.”
Thursday was also Konopka’s 33rd birthday.
“Those types of guys are really good role models for the younger players and they last that long because they have that special ingredient to work and compete,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “[Matt] Ellis is the same type of guy. You don’t have to be blessed with a lot of skill, but that certain amount of grit and that determination, that goes long ways.”
A native of nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Konopka played hockey at an early age with Sabres center Matt Ellis. Ellis was raised in Welland, Ont.
“I’ve heard Teddy use the term to describe [captain Steve Ott] as a warrior. Well, this guy’s a warrior, too,” Ellis said. “I grew up with him, played minor hockey with him. He’s a guy that lays everything on the line night in and night out.”
He made special note of Konopka’s competitive nature.
“He’s there to compete, loves to win and he’ll be a nice asset to this locker room,” Ellis said said. “I can’t say enough about the type of guy he is. He’s that one guy in our area, even in summer hockey, he hates to lose.”
Matt Moulson was a teammate of Konopka’s when both were on the New York Islanders in 2010-11. Konopka recorded a career-high nine points (2+7) and 307 penalty minutes in 82 games that year.
“He competes hard. He’ll do anything for the team. He’s a great team guy. He always has your back,” Moulson said. “He takes great pride in his faceoffs and I know that’s something he works on all the time. That’s something we could definitely use. He’ll be a welcome addition.”
“It is what it is,” Ellis said. “It was a mad scramble in front. I put it towards the net and [Myers] did a good job getting himself in a good position and it banked in off him.
“I think that’s the way our team needs to score goals. Our team needs to create chaos in front with bodies going to the net. We need to get on the board with a lot more of those workman-like, so-called ugly goals and whatnot.”
On the injury front, Nolan did not have an update on Stafford, who left the game Thursday night in the first period with an upper-body injury.
“It’s going to be a little while,” Nolan said.
Those players and Kevin Porter, who is on injured reserve, aren’t expected to return to the lineup for at least a week. Porter and McCormick could be out longer.
Ville Leino missed the game against the Wild with a lower-body injury but Nolan hopes he’ll be ready to go against the Devils on Saturday.
“Ville’s pretty close. He’s going to be another game-time decision tomorrow,” Nolan said. “Hopefully he’s in.”
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