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Hockey's Sunday morning papers

NEW YORK -- Greetings from 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues. The view actually is identical to the picture on the right. Anyway, it's time for the Sunday morning look around the NHL, starting right in the defenseless B-lo:

*Don't let the score fool you. The Buffalo Sabres' two-goal loss to the New York Islanders really wasn't that close. If the Isles were better at burying the glorious chances presented to them by the Sabres, Buffalo might've trudged home from Long Island with double digits in the goals-against column.

"It was just an inconsistent night with a large lapse of not getting it done," defenseman Steve Montador said after the 5-3 loss. (Side note: I'm not even entirely sure if that quote makes sense, but it is by far my favorite quote of the year so far.)

*All the Sabres have to do is say "yes" and they will start next season in Europe, according to ESPN.com and the rumor mill inside the team dressing room.

"Nothing is finalized," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier told The Buffalo News during the third period of Saturday's 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders.

*In the NHL. Those three words made a world of difference to Chris Mueller, the West Seneca native and former Nichols star who made his debut with Nashville on Dec. 28 against Dallas after taking a circuitous route to the NHL. Bucky Gleason has the story.

Bucky also writes that sources last week said Sabres minority partner Dan DiPofi is likely headed for the exits whenever Terrence Pegula takes over as owner. Managing partner Larry Quinn and General Manager Regier are expected to remain through a transition process before departing.

*Marc-Andre Gragnani tied a Portland record by assisting on five goals, giving the Pirates an 8-3 win over Worcester.

*Folks in Ottawa have thrown in the towel regarding the Senators, who are expected to start dumping players.

*My good buddy George Richards of the Miami Herald reports the Panthers again turned to goalie Scott Clemmensen instead of Tomas Vokoun, and the result was a third straight victory that pushed the Sabres back to 11th in the Eastern Conference.

*Speaking of good buddies, Tim Graham has plenty of takes on the big Patriots-Jets game today. I know, that's not hockey, but I haven't seen Tim in way too long, so it's just another way of saying hello.

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Report: Sabres asked to start next season in Europe

UNIONDALE, L.I. -- All the Buffalo Sabres have to do is say "yes" and they will start next season in Europe, according to ESPN.com and the rumor mill inside the team dressing room.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported tonight that the NHL has asked the Sabres to be one of the six teams that will head overseas to begin the 2011-12 season in the annual Premiere Games.

"Nothing is finalized," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier told The Buffalo News during the third period of a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders.

The other teams asked to travel to Europe are the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, according to LeBrun, who quoted multiple industry sources. The league started the Premiere Games in 2007-08 with two games in London, and the preliminary plan calls for six games in six cities next season, LeBrun reported.

"I heard the rumor, too, that we’re going to Germany to my hometown," Sabres left wing Jochen Hecht, who is from Mannheim, told The News. "That would be nice. We’ll see."

The San Jose Sharks played an exhibition in Mannheim this season. Hecht said he and his family need about a week to get accustomed to the six-hour time change in Buffalo when he comes back from summers in his homeland. It is the obvious drawback to accepting the offer.

"It’s tough dealing with the time change, going there, playing those games then coming back and jumping right into game action again," Hecht said. "It’s a nice experience. On the other side, I think travel is going to be very hard."

The NHL’s main desire with the Premiere Games is to grow the game outside North America. Bringing home an Olympian like Hecht and an Austrian sports hero like Thomas Vanek presumably would be a bonus for the European fans and the Sabres.

"It’s always good to go," Vanek told The News. "I know growing up over there, I was a huge fan. Even though we only got about an hour a week to watch it, it was a thrill. To go over there now, I’m sure a lot of young kids are excited to see the teams."

---John Vogl

Live from Sabres at Islanders

UNIONDALE, L.I. -- I'm as fun-loving as they come, and I'm definitely an optimistic person. Still, when I was boarding the plane for the flight to New York this morning and learned the mother of my close friend was in the final stages of Hospice care, I immediately wondered: Who's the third?

Death comes in threes, they say, and I've long noticed. So following this week's sad passing of Paul Hamilton's wife and the unfortunate news regarding Mrs. Phyllis Bonfessuto today, I sensed the pall of a third.

I never figured this afternoon's call would be my mom crying because her husband died in their South Carolina backyard.

My sincere condolences to my mom and everyone involved in all three deaths. Ken Held, my mom's husband, was a fine, quiet man, a former railroad worker who enjoyed the outdoors and -- in a highly intelligent move -- hated snow, hence their move to South Carolina. He was great with my son Ty, teaching him about things outside my areas of expertise (Beavis and Butthead, motorcycles and hunting guns immediately come to mind). He and my mother had quality years, and I wish there were plenty more.

Mrs. Bonfessuto has always been the even-keeled conscience in a house full of opinions and emotions, a house she welcomed me into back in my college days when home was wherever the wind and parties sent me.

I never had the fortune of meeting Dawn Hamilton, but I've learned quite a bit about her through the years covering the Sabres with Paul of WGR. His stories of her triumphs and progress throughout a cancer battle were always good to hear.

Again, my condolences to Mom, the Bonfessutos and Dawn Hamilton's family.

Back soon with actual hockey talk. Let's get going, eh?

FIRST PERIOD

7:08 p.m.: The Sabres are starting with their hot line of Paul Gaustad, Cody McCormick and Nathan Gerbe. Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera are on defense.

7:10 p.m.: The Sabres, for the second straight game, skipped the morning skate. They have the first two shots with 17:55 left.

7:14 p.m.: Ryan Miller announces his presence with a big arm save on Michael Grabner's shot from the slot with 15:09 to go.

7:16 p.m.: Sabres hit the first commercial with a 3-2 shot edge in a scoreless game with 13:52 left. The Ice Girls also hit the ice for the first commercial.

7:22 p.m.: The Sabres have, at least temporarily, lost Mike Grier. The forward lost his footing trying to pick up a loose puck with 11:15 to go, slowly got up from the ice and is in obvious pain at the end of the Sabres' bench.

7:24 p.m.: All the Sabres who talked up the Isles as a fast, energetic team were right. Led by speedy Michael Grabner, they can fly. It's no score at the second commercial as the Nassau Coliseum fans give a standing ovation to Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Raymond with 7:57 left.

7:28 p.m.: Miller stops a two-on-zero -- yes, a two-on-zero -- holding firm as John Tavares feeds P.A. Parenteau and shoots the return pass. Parenteau never sold that he might shoot, allowing Miller to cheat toward Tavares with 6:34 to go.

7:31 p.m.: Isles get the first power play as Steve Montador goes for holding with 5:12 to go. Isles have a 9-8 shot edge in the scoreless game.

7:34 p.m.: Grier is helping kill the penalty.

7:36 p.m.: Tough run for Tavares as he whiffs on a wide-open rebound after Miller stops Radek Martinek's point blast with 3:14 to go.

7:38 p.m.: The Isles miss another point-blank chance as Blake Comeau fires wide from the slot after a Buffalo turnover with 1:42 left.

7:39 p.m.: Sabres get a power play when Milan Jurcina trips Tyler Ennis with 33.2 seconds left.

7:41 p.m.: It's scoreless after one, but the Sabres will have a stellar chance to take the lead at the start of the second. Martinek high-sticked Thomas Vanek with 16.0 seconds left and headed to the box. The Sabres will have 1:27 left on the five-on-three when play resumes.

SECOND PERIOD

7:59 p.m.: It takes the Sabres just 17 seconds to score and take a 1-0 lead. Thomas Vanek enters the zone, loses the puck and Ennis recovers. He feeds a wide-open Vanek at the post.

8:01 p.m.: Isles leave the penalty box with no further damage. It's 1-0 Buffalo with 17:57 to go as the Sabres take a 16-15 shot edge.

8:05 p.m.: Isles get another power-play chance as Rob Niedermayer goes to the box for hooking with 16:16 left.

8:07 p.m.: Niedermayer is out, and the Sabres are still up 1-0.

8:09 p.m.: Commercial hits with 12:39 to go, with Sabres holding 1-0 lead and 19-17 shot edge.

8:12 p.m.: Tavares finally buries a chance, tying the game with 12:10 to go. Left alone in front, he rips Parenteau's pass from behind the net off the crossbar and in.

8:15 p.m.: Play is stopped with 10:46 left as Jurcina collides with Ennis and leaves the ice with towel covering his bloodied forehead.

8:16 p.m.: Niedermayer heads back to box for high-sticking with 9:33 left. That's two penalties so far. As you probably know, he has zero goals in 34-plus games.

8:18 p.m.: Tavares, who should have four goals, gets his second with 9:26 left, making the Sabres pay for Niedermayer's penalty. Tavares tips Matt Moulson's pass to the top of the crease off Miller, then backhands the rebound to give New York a 2-1 lead. 

8:24 p.m.: Here come the hats! Tavares completes his natural hat trick with 6:24 left to give the Isles a 3-1 lead. Seconds after Miller stops his backhand, Tavares pokes home a rebound. Parenteau tips Andrew MacDonald's point shot off the post and off Miller's back, and Tavares cleans up.

8:28 p.m.: And it's 4-1 as the Sabres' defense again falls apart. Josh Bailey is allowed to skate toward the bottom of the circle and feeds Comeau, whose deflection gets by Miller with 4:35 to go. I'd've called a timeout by now, but the Sabres are acting like Kevin Bacon in "Animal House" -- Thank you, sir, may I have another?!

By the way, my buddy Tom Doody and I met Otis Day last weekend in Phoenix after he played at the Oregon pep rally. Quality picture, and good times.

8:33 p.m.: Sabres get a chance to end period with some hope as Jeremy Colliton (who?) gets a tripping call with 2:22 to go.

8:38 p.m.: The momentum belongs to the Isles, who head to the dressing room with a 4-1 lead and 33-28 shot edge. Yup, 33 shots in 40 minutes.

THIRD PERIOD

8:55 p.m.: Miller leads the Sabres into the third period. Figured it might be Patty Lalime time, but I guess not.

8:55 p.m.: Not that Miller was to blame on any of the goals. Just figured a few minutes rest wouldn't hurt for a guy making his 21st straight start.

It's 9 o'clock on a Saturday: And Jurcina is going to the penalty box for interference with 15:24 left.

9:02 p.m. The Sabres score their second power-play goal of the night. Jordan Leopold fires wide from the right point, and Ennis buries a shot from the left side before DiPietro can slide across and get settled with 14:05 left.

It's 4-2 with the commercial break hitting at 13:53. The Ice Girls are out shoveling the ice in their third outfits of the night.

9:10 p.m.: DiPietro stops Ennis with 10:09 left, keeping the score 4-2. Coach Jack Capuano senses the momentum shift and calls a timeout. Nice.

9:20 p.m.: Just got back from a very brief chat with Darcy Regier. ESPN's Pierre LeBrun just reported the Sabres are one of six teams invited by the league to open in Europe next season. Regier told me that nothing has been finalized.

It's still 4-2 with 5:39 left.

9:30 p.m.: Grabner and Jochen Hecht trade late goals, as the Islanders beat the Sabres, 5-3.

---John Vogl

Stafford to play; Rivet, Butler scratched

UNIONDALE, L.I. -- Drew Stafford, who missed Friday's practice because of injury, proclaimed himself ready to play against the Islanders tonight after a short skate in Nassau Coliseum.

There will be no lineup changes for the Sabres, with captain Craig Rivet and fellow defenseman Chris Butler being the healthy scratches. The duo is on the ice taking part in James Patrick's dreaded "skate with a parachute" workout.

---John Vogl

DiPietro back in the crease for Isles

UNIONDALE, L.I. -- The Sabres arrived on Long Island just in time to meet the Islanders' franchise goaltender. Rick DiPietro, who has missed the past five games with a groin strain, will return tonight and play against the Sabres.

"I’m ready to come back 100 percent, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity," DiPietro said in Nassau Coliseum.

DiPietro is just 6-6-4 with a 3.46 goals-against average and .889 save percentage this season, but he had turned around his game before the Jan. 3 injury. He is 4-1 in his last five decisions.

"You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the team and their ability to play," DiPietro said. "We’ve made little tweaks to our system. Our D-zone has been better. I can’t say enough about our defensemen blocking shots and clearing the front of the net. I think in the last couple months we're a team that’s getting a lot more confidence."

The Isles are 7-4-2 in their last 13 games and eager to get DiPietro back.

"Ricky’s a great leader for this team," left wing Matt Moulson said. "He’s been playing great in net, so it’s good to have him back and see that he’s feeling better."

---John Vogl

Sabres set to play in front of empty seats again

The Sabres have played in front of small crowds this season – most notably in Atlanta, New Jersey, Dallas and Florida – and they can expect another intimate gathering Saturday. The Islanders rank last in the NHL in average attendance, drawing only 9,842 fans to Nassau Coliseum. New Yorkers are filling the decrepit arena to just 60.4 percent capacity.

"There’s a lot of history in that building. It makes it fun that way," said Sabres defenseman Steve Montador, referring to the Isles’ run of four championships in the early 1980s. "On the road you’re creating your own energy anyway. Certainly, it’s not like going into Montreal or somebody coming to Buffalo, but at the same time maybe that can work to our benefit."

---John Vogl

Stafford misses practice, expected to play

The Sabres prepared for Saturday's game on Long Island with a brief practice in Northtown Arena in Amherst, and they did so without right wing Drew Stafford.

"Drew is just nursing a couple of ailments, and we figured we'd give him the morning off, but in all likelihood he should be good for tomorrow," coach Lindy Ruff said.

Right wing Patrick Kaleta, who wouldn't have played anyway because of his broken left hand, won't make the trip to Nassau Coliseum to see the Islanders. He was sent home from practice after coming down with the flu, and Ruff said it's unlikely Kaleta will travel with the team.

Audio of Ruff's news conference is below.

---John Vogl

Carolina's Maurice not concerned

The Sabres were happy to beat the team ahead of them in the standings, and the 10th-place squad moved closer to ninth-place Carolina with a 3-2 victory. The Sabres are five back of the Hurricanes, who certainly don't claim to be looking in the rearview mirror.

"We don’t look at the opponents like we need to keep Buffalo behind us," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "We want to catch teams ahead of us."

Maurice also won't be looking back at the game tape of his HSBC Arena loss, which featured few scoring chances for a team that scored 15 goals in the previous three games.

"It was a road game," Maurice said, "and I’m more than happy to leave it here."

To hear Maurice's postgame comments, click here.

To hear center Eric Staal's postgame comments, click here.

To hear goalie Cam Ward's postgame comments, click here.

 

---John Vogl

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Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Canes

We're in our usual perch here in HSBC Arena, high above Section 319, for tonight's game between the Sabres and the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes, who are 6-0-2 in their last eight and seven points ahead of Buffalo for ninth in the East. The Canes haven't lost in regulation since Dec. 26 and are three points behind Atlanta for eighth in the East.

Carolina has 48 points and the Sabres have 41. A regulation loss by Buffalo tonight would push the Sabres nine points out of ninth in the East. Not eighth. Ninth. And that would mean the future Pegulas would be closer and closer to the time when they should start selling.

We learned this morning that Thomas Vanek would be in the lineup tonight. We're learning during warmups who will not be. Chris Butler is one scratch but there are 19 skaters on the ice. So we'll have to wait for the announcement of who sits, whether it's Luke Adam or Craig Rivet or somebody else. How about Rob no-goals-in-33-games Niedermayer getting a night off?

Stay tuned for more.

6:55 p.m. update: Rivet is a scratch. So are Butler and Kaleta. Sabres obviously don't care that their 11th place team has no useful captain since they keep scratching him but won't take away the C like they should. Who knew what Ted Sator did to Lindy 22 years ago would handcuff the team so much now?

7 p.m. update on starters:

Buffalo: Gerbe-Gaustad-McCormick-Sekera-Myers. Goal: MIller
Carolina: Cole-Staal-Jokinen-McBain-Pitkanen. Goal: Ward 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Third Period

853 p.m: The puck is dropped.

17:11 left: Pitkanen goes for cross-checking McCormick in front. McCormick responded with a slash that could have been called too but wasn't. He needs to skate away when his team is in line for a power play.

16:34 left: Great puck work on the PP all the way up the ice. Even that drop pass at center ice I normally hate. Vanek eventually passes from the right wing to Stafford in the slot and he buries it past Ward for his 15th. Sabres lead, 3-1.

14:00 left: Connolly overhandles on a 2-on-1 with Vanek, doesn't shoot and loses the puck. Crowd boos. 

12:10 left: Nice stop by Miller on Ruutu keeps Buffalo's two-goal lead intact.

9:50 left: Vanek on break goes in too deep to Ward's left, curls around net beating Ward to the right post but just fires the puck back through the crease and is unable to curl it inside the post. Classic look on his face. Pained smile as he looks to the rafters. Great rush. Barely missed the spectacular finish.

6:49 left: Sabres in control. Shots are 5-4 in the third and 31-25 overall. Just have to simply take this one across the finish line. An oddly uninspiring outing so far by the Canes, who came in on a 6-0-2 streak. They showed very little except for about three or four minutes after their goal. And that one, remember, was a power-play tally after the very dubious call on Myers.

3:12 left: Sabres are currently 4-12-3 against top 8 in East. With win tonight, they would be 15-7-2 against everybody else in the NHL. Odd. Shows their mediocrity. Better against bottom-run teams (and suprisingly good against the West). Simply can't match up to the Phillys, Tampas, Pittsburghs and Montreals of the world. At least not over the first 43 games.

1:57 left: Ward out. Faceoff in Buffalo end.

31.3 left: Canes with HUGE pressure and Skinner finally puts it in. Miller AND Montador had no sticks. Sabres lead, 3-2.

10.2 left: Terrible play by Sekera. Ice-length icing. Just get it out and you'd kill the clock. Now faceoff back to Miller's left.

It's over: Sabres hang on for a 3-2 win. Final shots were 35-29 for Buffalo.

 

Second Period

8:01 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

15:06 left: Myers gone for goaltender interference. Horrible call. He went flying over Ward. Was pushed right into him. You could see the two-hand push on the HD board by Jay Harrison, who was beaten. And Lindy goes nuts.

14:51 left: Just 15 seconds later, the Canes tie it up at 1-1 as Tuomo Ruutu tips one home on a great pass from Eric Staal. Ruff is all over ref Marc Joannette. That whole sequence was a joke.

11:21 left: Ennis goes for tripping. In the offensive zone.

9:12 left: Sabres kill that penalty. Shots are 9-8 in the period for the Canes.

8:11 left: McCormick flips a Leopold rebound over Ward's shoulder. His sixth of the year, extending his career-high. And his 13th point set a new career mark. He does it all. Assist away from the Gordie Howe hat trick again. Sabres lead, 2-1.

5:30 left: The Canes have a 3-on-1 and shoot high. The Sabres come right back with a 4-on-2 and shoot wide. Gotta put the puck on the net, people.

5:01 left: Bodie goes for an unintentional high stick of Connolly in the faceoff circle. Awfully close to that nine-way nose. McCormick, by the way, now has the same number of goals as Connolly at a cost that 's $4 million less (Connolly is making $4.5 million and 

3:44 left: Miller comes way out to get the puck and gets his legs taken out by Patrick Dwyer, who was going for the puck too and went into a slide to avoid a collision. Still, he took Miller out at the legs. Not good.

2:40 left: Sabres have really taken charge after the second goal. Shots are 18-9 for Buffalo.

21.4 left: Miller stops Boychuk from in tight to preserve the lead. Sabres have had at least the last 10 shots on goal. It's been a while for the Canes but that was a good chance.

End-2nd: Sabres lead, 2-1. Shots were 18-11 in the period for Buffalo and 26-21 for the game. Just checked the play-by-play. It was 10 straight shots for the Sabres and none over nine minutes for the Canes.

First Period

7:08 p.m.: The puck is dropped. Very classy move by the Sabres to have a pregame moment of silence for Dawn Hamilton, who passed away last night after a four-year battle with cancer. She was the wife of WGR Radio beat reporter Paul Hamilton, one of the true professionals on this level of the arena. Rick Jeanneret just passed on condolences on air as well.

15:42 left: Yawn. Hurricanes have a 2-1 edge in shots. Nothing really going on. Out of town, reeling Ottawa is giving Swedish rookie Robin Lehner his first NHL start in goal against the New York Islanders. Lehner, you may recall, is the 19-year-old who beat Team Canada in a shootout in the World Juniors here on New Year's Eve.

13:39 left: Shots are 3-1 for the Canes. Yep, not taking the morning skate this morning really has the Sabres full of life.

11:00 left: No surprises on the Sabres' lines. Gerbe-Gaustad-McCormick got the start. It's also Vanek-Connolly-Pominville, Ennis-Hecht-Stafford and Niedermayer-Adam-Grier.

10:13 left: Good scrap between McCormick and Troy Bodie came at the end of a shift where the Gaustad line was again doing solid work down low. The other lines have been invisible.

8:53 left: Ward stops Pominville on a slapper from the right circle. Shots are 7-5 for the Canes.

8:15 left: Montador crushes big-name rookie Jeff Skinner at the Canes line to give the Sabres a good chance but Ennis and Stafford combine to overpass and there's no shot. SHOOT!

7:33 left: Gaustad goes for tripping.

6:10 left: Zach Boychuk denied on a golden chance from the slot.

5:22 left: Tough PP for Boychuk. He's drilled with a teammate's shot and struggles to limp to the bench. The Sabres go down and take a 1-0 lead as Gerbe puts one home from the slot on a great feed from behind the net from Vanek. Gerbe's second of the year. Richly deserved the way he's played the last two games. Big for the Sabres to get too: Carolina is 14-1-3 when scoring first.

4:14 left: Classic moment on the HD board: The 1976 game against the Soviet Wings that resulted in a resouding 12-6 rout at the Aud. Awesome. (go away kisscam and bloopers).

End-1st: Sabres hold their 1-0 lead. Canes have a 10-8 edge in shots.


Vanek good to go

Thomas Vanek shot a few pucks on his own and did a few sprints in one end of HSBC Arena this morning. Frankly, he didn't look all that comfortable testing his injured right hand. Nonetheless, Vanek said he will be in the lineup tonight when the Sabres face the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I expected to be a little uncomfortable but it actually went better than I thought it would," Vanek said. "It felt good. I still think I can contribute and score out there so that's why I'm in."

The Sabres are getting into dire straits in the standings (they're seven points behind ninth-place Carolina heading into tonight's game), but Vanek said he's not pushing the envelope because of the conference race.

"It's always based on if you can help the team," he said. "Even now, we're in a tough situation but if I would have felt like I can't shoot and can't help the team, there's no purpose in playing."

"It's not uncommon for a player to try to battle through [injury]," added coach Lindy Ruff. "He's not 100 percent but a lot of players are not 100 percent when they play. Thomas thinks it's important that he plays and I do too."

Vanek played 24 minutes Tuesday against Philadelphia and the injury flared up after the game and kept him off the ice Wednesday. The line of Vanek, Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville did very little offensively against the Flyers and that has to change quickly.

"We were put together for a reason," Vanek said. "That's not just to score goals but to create momentum and offense and we didn't do much of that. On the power play we didn't do the job and it carried over on our five-on-five play."

In other news, Ruff said Luke Adam would return to the lineup tonight after missing Tuesday's game with the flu. Ruff said he had not decided to go with six or seven defensemen but it seemed unlikely he would scratch Nathan Gerbe, who might be coming off his best game of the season Tuesday.

Ruff kept his players off the ice this morning so they would stay a little fresher for the game, much like he did on the Western road trip. The only ones who skated were the injured Patrick Kaleta, backup goaltender Patrick Lalime and defensemen Craig Rivet and Chris Butler. Hmmm. Wonder if Ruff is going back to six blueliners and scratching the captain again.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Inside the NHL -- Live Chat

Four forward lines, six D-men a possibility for Sabres

Lindy Ruff has used seven defensemen and 11 forwards for the past five games, but the coach said that could change Thursday against Carolina. Nathan Gerbe is the reason why.

Gerbe had an assist and three shots on goal Tuesday against Philadelphia, joining with linemates Paul Gaustad and Cody McCormick to create several scoring chances. Gerbe had been scratched in the previous four games because of Ruff's lineup switch and only dressed because the flu struck center Luke Adam, who returned to practice today and will be available to play.

"It was a pretty good game for myself for not playing for a bit," Gerbe said. "Jumping back into it, I wanted to make sure I got my feet going and play a pretty smart game. I thought I did that."

Did he do enough to persuade Ruff to use four lines?

"I hope so, but that’s out of my control," Gerbe said. "Whatever games I’m playing, I’ll show up and play and do my best. That’s all I can do."

Said Ruff on a return to 12 forwards and six defensemen: "I think it’s a possibility looking at the schedule right now. We’re 4-1-1 in the last six. I don’t want to let really what I look at as one period of hockey ruin what we had going. It hurts. You learn from it. Nobody likes losing, but we have to move on."

---John Vogl

Vanek misses practice, Kaleta to miss another week

The Sabres practiced without their most potent scorer today, as Thomas Vanek was a little "banged up" following Tuesday's 5-2 loss to Philadelphia. Coach Lindy Ruff is hopeful Vanek can return for Thursday's game against Carolina in HSBC Arena.

"Thomas is a little banged up, so we had to give him the morning off," said Ruff, who acknowledged Vanek got his hand taped up during the Flyers game. "Hopefully, he’ll be OK. There’s concern. I think there’s always concern. He couldn’t practice today. He was too sore. We’ll see where he’s at tomorrow morning."

Center Luke Adam will be able to return after missing one game with the flu. Right wing Patrick Kaleta practiced with the Sabres after visiting the doctor, but he will miss his sixth straight game and more with a broken hand suffered Dec. 28 in Edmonton.

"He saw our doctors, and he won’t be back for at least a week, at the minimum," Ruff said.

Thursday's game will be a match between the ninth- and 10th-place teams in the Eastern Conference. Carolina has 48 points and is three out of the final playoff spot, while Sabres have 41 points and are 10 behind eighth-place Atlanta.

"It is big. The way you move up is to play the teams that are right around you," Ruff said. "We’ve got an opportunity to play Carolina who is just above us, and you call these four-point games. They really turn out to be."

The audio of Ruff's news conference is below.

---John Vogl

 

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Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Flyers

Greetings from HSBC Arena as the world is back to normal now that the Worlds have left Buffalo. The Sabres' anniversary logo is back at center ice, the normal board ads adorn the rink, the semicircle goal crease is gone, the competing nations' flags are down from the rafters, the obnoxious Canadian fans are back across the Peace Bridge and -- perhaps most important -- the Russians are back in Moscow. Whew. 

It's the Sabres and Eastern Conference-leading Flyers tonight and faceoff is in the 7:40 range thanks to Versus, which obviously doesn't give a hoot about deadlines of your friendly blogger/ink-stained wretch. 

First bit of news (no, not about Terry Pegula): Nathan Gerbe is in the lineup tonight. Looks like the scratches are Luke Adam, Chris Butler and the injured Patrick Kaleta as the Sabres continue to go with seven defensemen. Frankly, I wouldn't play one-goal-in-24-games Gerbe over Adam but they know best, right? Yeesh.

Rick Jeanneret is back tonight with Harry Neale but they will be radio only as Versus tells stories and ignores the play calls the game. Keep it here for the latest.

Sabres starters: Ennis-Hecht-Stafford-Myers-Sekera. Goal: Miller.
Flyers starters: Hartnell-Briere-Leino-Coburn-Timonen. Goal: Bobrovsky

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Third Period

9:26 p.m.: Game on.

18:40 left: Sabres do nothing on the power play and the time expires.

17:43 left: The Flyers go ahead as Ville Leino pots Briere's rebound after Myers loses the puck at center ice. Might be a kick with the left skate. Under review. Goal stands. Looked like Leino moved his right skate and the puck hit the left. Flyers lead, 3-2. Third point for Briere.

16:37 left: Flyers buzzing. Have a 5-1 edge in shots. Wonder if Ruff is pondering his timeout right now.

9:30 left: Print editions calling but we seem to have that under control now. It's still 3-2. Shots are 11-6 Philly in this period.

8:39 left: Good rush by Ennis but Bobrovsky with the save on Buffalo's 36th shot. Flyers have 27.

8:24 left: Good night. Terrible giveaway at the Flyers' line by Sekera and Mike Richards goes all the way in alone. Burns Miller on the backhand. Flyers lead, 4-2.

Flyers win 5-2 -- empty netter by Hartnell with 1:55 left.

Second Period

8:31 p.m. The puck is dropped.

15:21 left: Good start for the Sabres as they have the only three shots. Sekera did a good job lugging the puck on one rush coast to coast but Connolly blew that opportunity. 

14:32 left: Leopold for hooking and it's a good thing. Van Riemsdyk had a wide-open net on a rebound but Leopold hooked him down.

13:13 left: Miller's best save, a sprawling dive on a Jeff Carter rebound. That had to hurt the groin a little, just for the record.

12:30 left: Miller helps Buffalo survive that one. Flyers' power play has been dominant in its two chances so far.

9:50 left: Shots are 20-13 for Buffalo and here comes the Kisscam. Told ya. Boo. Out of town, the Bruins are crushing the Senators, 5-0, in Boston. When is the end coming in Ottawa for GM Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston? It has to be near.

8:46 left: How many shots is McCormick getting in this game? He just cut in front from the left boards and forced Bobrovsky to make another save. That's eight shots on goal for No. 8. 

8:10 left: The Gaustad line is driving the Flyers crazy. And after-the-whistle stuff has the Sabres on the power play as Andrej Meszaros takes a silly roughing penalty going after Gaustad.

6:01 left: Decent possession in the zone, not too many chances as the penalty expires. Shots are 10-3 for the Sabres in this period.

5:37 left: Good slugfest after the whistle between Gaustad and Hartnell, who clearly went looking for him. They'll get five apiece.

3:56 left: Some 4-on-4 hockey as Timonen goes for grabbing Ennis in front of the net but Ennis got unsportsmanlike conduct for diving. Hmmm.

2:10 left: Miller robs Matt Carle in the slot after Carter manhandles Weber behind the net to get the puck out front.

1:49 left: The famous Briere windmill after the ex-Sabres captain gets his 22nd to tie the game at 2-2. A bad break as McCormick's back pass at center ice went by Montador and sent the Flyers away as Timonen jumped the puck coming out of the penalty box and Briere took his rebound. Shots are 14-6 in the period for Buffalo and 28-16 in the game but it's game tied 2-2.

46.4 left: Coburn for holding.

End-2nd: It's 2-2. Shots were 15-6 for Buffalo and are 29-16 through two periods.

First Period

7:40 p.m: The puck is dropped (thanks for nothing, Versus). Both teams in their retros. Flyers have the white with orange that brings back 70s nightmares and has me looking for the ghosts of Orest Kindrachuk, Don Saleski, Bob Kelly and Dave Schultz. This is, by the way, the 35th anniversary of their win over the Red Army -- the game the Russians temporarily walked off the ice to protest the Bullies' rough play.

15:00 left: The Sabres take the lead on a rebound goal by Gaustad. Myers let go a drive from the point, McCormick was stopped on the backhand on a rebound and Gaustad finally pounded it home. Sabres lead, 1-0. A minute earlier, Bobrovsky had robbed Ennis on a 3-on-1 break.

13:30 left: Sabres skating well in this one. Shots are 8-3 in their favor. Miller made a good save early on Mike Richards from in tight and the Flyers have done nothing else.

12:30 left: Forget what I said about Gerbe. He's been a terror down low so far. Gerbe-Gaustad-McCormick all over the Flyers again with three more shots. 

10:01 left: Gerbe has been a monster so far in wildly fast-moving period. Outworked the Flyers for the puck again and fired one wide from the slot but McCormick takes it off the backboards and banks it in off the back of Bobrovsky's right leg. Sabres lead, 2-0. Shots are 12-3.

7:34 left: Weber for interference as the Flyers are starting to get their legs and give the Sabres trouble in their own end since the second goal. The lines have been Ennis-Hecht-Stafford, Vanek-Connolly-Pominville, Gerbe-Gaustad-McCormick.  Niedermayer and Grier floating with a double-shifting forward. Defense pairs are Myers-Sekera, Leopold-Montador, Morrisonn-Weber.

7:19 left: That didn't take long. Richards absolutely wipes out Hecht in the corner and Timonen's shot from the point is tipped home by Hartnell. Sabres lead, 2-1.

6:32 left: Finally a TV timeout. We've played 13 1/2 minutes in 21 minutes of real time. Lightning quick. There are no Terry Pegula sightings. He's not in the owner's box folks, so stop asking. He doesn't own the team. Yet. There are some folks in there but they could be contest winners or whoever. No one of note involved with running this operation.

2:31 left: A classic moment on the HD board? Very nice to see Mogilny's 76th vs. the Flyers in 1993. We've only waited a half season to get stuff like that in the 40th anniversary year instead of those ridiculous blooper reels. Applause from this end. About time. But I know the kisscam is looming.

1:27 left: Bobrovsky gets a piece of McCormick's laser from the slot, Buffalo's first shot in nearly nine minutes (the Flyers had six straight). Leopold then stopped from the point.

End-1st: Sabres lead, 2-1. Shots are 14-10.

 

Sabres statement on Pegula

The Buffalo Sabres released the following statement in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon: "Terry Pegula visited the Buffalo Sabres offices today for informal discussions. Neither the Sabres nor Mr. Pegula are available to comment on the visit."

The fact he was in the building, covering the details, is not a surprise. It appears the prospective owner of the team continues to do his due diligence.

Sources maintain the transaction will be completed near the end of the month, shortly after the All-Star Game in Raleigh on Jan. 30.

 

--- Bucky Gleason

 

Flyers a tough test for Star-less Sabres

The Sabres will not have a representative in the NHL All-Star Game Jan. 30 at Carolina as the rosters were completed today and no Buffalo player was named. Tyler Ennis will be the Buffalo representative, taking part in the skills competition on Jan. 29. The complete list can be found here. Teams will be formed Jan. 28 as part of the league's new fantasy draft. The Sabres, Islanders, Panthers and Coyotes were shut out of the selections.

As for tonight's game against Philadelphia, coach Lindy Ruff said defenseman Mike Weber will be back in the lineup after missing one game with a bruised finger. Ruff would not say for sure, but it's expected that the Sabres will scratch Chris Butler and a forward (either Nathan Gerbe or Luke Adam) and again go with seven defensemen.

"We've got a chance to play against the best team in the East and we're very much looking forward to this," Weber said. "They're a fast team. You can eliminate some of that speed with physical play down low but you can't run out of position and give them opportunities where they can jump by us."

The Flyers have seven forwards with at least 10 goals, led by the 21 of ex-Sabre Daniel Briere, who was snubbed in today's all-star picks. The Sabres have just two 10-goal fowards (Thomas Vanek has 16 and Drew Stafford has 14).

"They might have the best corps of offensive players," Ruff said. "They've been able to win tight games, been able to win shootouts. Their defense has played well too. Even with [Chris] Pronger out, other guys have stepped in and played well for them."

Asked if Philly's corps of centers are the best in the league, Ruff said, "I think it's pretty close. You might argue Detroit has a couple that are pretty good too. Overall on the offensive side, it's a very creative group."

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Video: Update from Monday's practice

Mike Harrington delivers the latest updates from HSBC Arena, where injured Derek Roy spoke with the media today for the first time since tearing his quad tendon on Dec. 23.

--Lauren Nicole Mariacher

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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