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Grier is in, Butler's status unknown

TORONTO -- Chris Butler and Mike Grier joined Jhonas Enroth on the ice today in the Air Canada Centre and no other Sabres came to the rink. Grier told me his injured groin is fine and he will definitely play tonight. Butler, who suffered an undetermined upper-body injury when he was checked Thursday in Boston, reported he was feeling better but didn't know his status for tonight.

The Sabres are very thin up front and it remains to be seen who among the trio of Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad and Drew Stafford will be able to play. Mark Parrish has been called up from Portland, giving Bufaflo 11 healthy forwards. That list includes Mark Mancari, so that means two of aforementioned trio of veterans will probably sit tonight.

"It's that time of year where everybody has bumps and bruises and gets nicked up," Grier said. "We're playing a lot of hockey and Lindy is doing his best to give guys rest when they need it. We're gonna have to have guys step up. It's an opportunity for some guys. It's easy to come and play because the games are exciting. It's not a time to be nervous. Step up, show the coaches you can get the job done."

Butler took a hit in the third period Thursday in Boston and said he did not feel good Friday, so that's why he was held off the ice.

"It was a little more sore than I was expecting yesterday but feels better today," Butler said. "I knew something wasn't right when I got hurt. But during the game, you've got a lot of adrenalin going and you don't know until the next minor. But it's nothing major so that's good."

It will be interesting to see if Butler gets the call. Normally, the current scratch (Mike Weber) would have done the off-ice workout in the morning with assistant coach James Patrick. Weber was not here today so I'm thinking Butler is out and Weber is back in.  We'll see.

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

Leafs in do-or-die mode

TORONTO -- Don't expect much news from the Sabres today as they have opted out of their morning skate here at the Air Canada Centre and coach Lindy Ruff is not even coming to the rink. That means we'll have to wait to speak to Ruff in the 5 p.m. range to find out who might be in and who might be out tonight.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, got an unscheduled day off yesterday as coach Ron Wilson opted to give them a mental day. They went hard for a half-hour this morning and then made it clear afterward their season might be on the line tonight.

"Basically what we're saying is we want to lay everything on the line for this game. This is pretty much the season here," said winger Clarke MacArthur, the ex-Sabre. "We have to find a way to bring more grit and determination tonight."

The Leafs got back in the race with a 6-0-3 burst -- including their 2-1 win Feb. 16 in HSBC Arena -- but are 0-2-1 in their last three. They're six points behind the seventh-place Sabres and eighth-place New York Rangers.

The Leafs have endured plenty of lean years in recent seasons and haven't made the playoffs since the lockout. They're running out of time to get there this year as well.

"If we slip to eight points, realistically, it's going to be tough," MacArthur said. "Tonight is the biggest game of the year.I honestly think we have more to give. We're going to find out what we're made of tonight. It's do or die."

Rookie goalie James Reimer, who came on in relief of J-S Giguere and got the win in Buffalo will be in goal for the Leafs tonight against Ryan Miller.

"It's a pressure game, a huge game for us with a lot on the line," said Reimer. "Both teams need the points but it's pretty obvious we need them a little more than they do."

The Sabres can with their 100th game all-time against the Leafs tonight as they're 99-55-22 against them. They have killed off 40 straight penalties over the last 11 games against Toronto, dating to March 27, 2009. Miller's 24 wins and four shutouts against the Leafs the his most against any opponent.

Here's audio from MacArthur's chat with reporters this morning.


Clarke MacArthur

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

Quiet morning for Sabres

TORONTO -- The Sabres have once again elected not to partake in a morning skate, with the Air Canada Centre ice inhabited by only backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth, forward Mike Grier and defenseman Chris Butler.

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a full session prior to tonight's meeting between the teams, and an update on their status will be on the blog soon.

---John Vogl

Sabres' logo is a no-walk zone

The Sabres practiced in HSBC Arena today before busing to Toronto, and the brief stay allowed the team to see the new logoed carpet in the dressing room. New owner Terry Pegula had it installed Thursday.

"We’ve been on the road a little while here, and we’ve been grinding along," goaltender Ryan Miller said. "To come home and have them do something nice for us, it feels good."

Miller joined assistant equipment manager George Babcock in laying down the law: No one is allowed to walk on the logo, even though it’s part of the floor.

"Georgy wasn’t kidding: You’ll be bleeding out of your eyes," Miller said. "Nobody’s walking over the emblem. Show a little respect."

Coach Lindy Ruff was impressed by the etched glass at the entrance of the dressing room that features Pegula’s oft-cited quote, "From this point forward, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup."

"You walk in, and that’s what it’s all about," Ruff said. "They did a great job."

---John Vogl

Sabres practice at home minus significant pieces

The road-warrior Buffalo Sabres returned home for a little while today and practiced in HSBC Arena. There were missing quite a few players.

Forwards Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, Paul Gaustad and Mike Grier, defensman Chris Butler and goaltender Patrick Lalime all skipped the workout with various injuries and ailments. Here's the rundown:

Stafford, hamstring: "He’s just going to be day-to-day," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Obviously, he wasn’t able to skate today. We’ll re-evaluate. I would just put him in the questionable category for tomorrow [at Toronto]."

Kaleta, knee: "The update is a severe bone bruise," Ruff said. "He’s got his leg immobilized now for a short period of time, so he’s going to be out at least another week and probably longer."

Gaustad: "We'll see. He’s being evaluated right now for upper body."

Grier, who returned from a groin injury for Thursday's 4-3 overtime win in Boston, took a "maintenance day."

Butler: "Butler is upper body, too, and we’ll see how he is tomorrow."

Lalime: "Patty Lalime has a knee issue that he’s going to need some time off."

Below is the audio from Ruff's news conference.

---John Vogl


Tangible changes in Sabreland

The Sabres' new ownership and management are intent on showing there will be action behind their words.

"It's one thing to talk about change," Sabres President Ted Black told The News on Thursday, "and it's quite another to see it every day."

So in the past week or so -- just two weeks after taking over the franchise -- owner Terry Pegula and Co. have:

*Spent more than $20,000 for a logoed carpet that was installed in the dressing room Thursday.

*Made plans to change the way fans watch the games, both in HSBC Arena (which will soon be slug-free) and on television (which will soon be home to a pregame show).

*Reached out to one of the two greatest players in franchise history, and Dominik Hasek will be back this month.

*Engaged the fans and embraced the customers' ideas, and they will continue to do so.

"We really tried to work hard these last two weeks because we do want to make sure that we show some actions behind our words, that the Sabres are a first-class organization and we are hockey heaven," Black said while giving a tour of the restyled dressing room.

Today's story touches on many of the changes. Here are a few others and an expansion of some topics:

*Black on why the Sabres have acted immediately: "It's kind of like buying a house. If you don’t get to stuff in the first six months, you kind of get used to that gutter that’s not attached right. Ten years go by and you’re like, 'Ah, I was going to fix that. I forgot.'

"Somebody asked me the other day, 'What are you going to do, and did you really mean it?' Everything you needed to hear and everything our players and staff needed to hear was said at that press conference. That wasn’t just air."

*On getting a Sabres logo on the dressing room carpet: "We decided to do it shortly after the first time we came in here. High school teams have logos. Where’s ours? It’s a source of pride and a source of tradition and myth."

*On the music played during games: "One thing you’ll see us do more and more of is reach out to the fans via our Website and ask fans to submit their ideas for songs and at what appropriate point in the game presentation to play them.

"I’m never going to have somebody play a song that all 19,000 people in the arena like and say, 'Yay, my favorite song.' But you can say, 'Hey, look, we give everyone an opportunity to submit stuff and we’re going to try and get to that playlist.' People can’t be upset about not being in engaged."

*Regarding the Sabres Suggestion Box, Black said the team will issue online responses to fans about topics that generate a lot of discussion. "I do want to thank the fans. Fifteen-hundred responses in a week was pleasantly overwhelming. I can assure you that we care about each and every one of them."

*On the dispute between MSG and Dish Network: "We’ll address it in our online responses, but unfortunately it’s one thing that I can’t fix. I can just say I get it, and as somebody who worked in TV I deeply understand it. I’ve asked MSG what can we do to help get this thing resolved."

*On any surprises during the first couple of weeks in town: "The pleasant surprise is this market is even stronger than I thought it was. There is a lot of passion. I thought coming in and having the first-day press conference, it would be a big to-do and it would kind of die off. The hunger that this community has for a winner, for somebody like Terry ... When a community or a sports fan feels like they’ve been kicked in the teeth for so long, everything seems like it’s too good to be true. I think in this case, it’s too good but it’s really true.

"I’ve heard people say, 'What did we do to deserve this?' I said, Stop. Buffalo deserves somebody like Terry Pegula, but it’s a two-way street."

---John Vogl


Vote for your three stars

Live from Beantown: Sabres vs. Bruins

BOSTON -- Greetings from Level 9 atop the TD Garden for tonight's game against the Zdeno Charas, er, the Boston Bruins. Seems like that's all we've been talking about today and all anybody in the building is talking about. So I get upstairs to my seat here and what am I next to? A black stanchion blocking my view of the net to the left on your television screen. Plenty of room for me to move down a couple and get the view. No stanchions for me.

Be sure to scroll through all of today's posts for the latest on Zdeno Chara. We've had a very busy day on the Edge before a puck is ever dropped. But we are finally going to get to hockey as the Sabres try to pull two points ahead of idle Carolina in the battle for eighth place in the East. The Rangers are also idle. The Sabres will pull even in games with the Hurricanes while Buffalo will have two games in hand over New York when tonight's play is over.

Speaking of Chara, doesn't he have to be on his best behavior tonight? No outbursts like we saw after Game Five of last year's playoff series in HSBC Arena. I'm thinking the Sabres may want to try to agitate him even more than normal. We'll see.

The Bruins have gotten great goaltending all year from Tim Thomas and they're a classic play-from-in-front team. They have outscored their opponents, 60-40, in the first period this season. They are 25-4-4 when scoring first, 22-2-1 when leading after one period and 25-0-1 when leading after two. Wow.

Keep these numbers in mind if we go to overtime tonight. Buffalo is 12-8 when tied after regulation and Boston is just 2-8. The Sabres are 5-1 in shootouts, the Bruins are 1-5. Hmmm.

With all the Chara chatter and pregame prep, you still have to eat at some point. And when you're in Boston, one of the great choices is The Fours on Canal Street right by the Garden. I've been going since 1989 and made it there again this afternoon. Classic stuff. Tremendous Boston-themed memorabilia collection. Voted No. 1 sports bar in America a few years ago in a Sports Illustrated story and a great Boston-themed menu. I'm a veteran of The Bobby Orr, a terrific steak tips sandwich. But today, I got a little daring and took the dive into lobster mac and cheese. Major yum alert.

Now that I'm hungry again, I'll find some of the league's best press box popcorn and hunker down. Keep it here.

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

Sabres starters: Niedermayer-McCormick-Grier-Montador-Sekera. Goal: Miller
Bruins starters: Paille-Campbell-Thornton-Seidenberg-McQuaid. Goal: Thomas 

Overtime recap: SABRES WIN 4-3 as Boyes pots Gerbe's rebound with 1:44 left. It came 25 seconds after Rich Peverley had MIller beat but cranked a shot off the post. Sabres are 8-7 in OT deciders and 2-1 in them on this road trip.

Third Period

8:59 p.m: The puck is dropped.

17:42 left: The Bruins take the lead as Gregory Campbell pounds a loose puck through Miller's legs. Chara let got a big shot from the point that didn't appear to get through but it pinballed right in front of the goalie and Campbell put it home. Looked like it hit Campbell, hit another player and bounced right back to Colin's son. Bruins lead, 3-2.

16:35 left: Recchi for high sticking.

16:18 left: Marchand for tripping Sekera, who went down awfully easily. Timeout Lindy. Two-man for 1:44. The Sabres have to tie the game here.

14:55 left: And they do. Good pressure. And Connolly pokes one home on Buffalo's third shot. Game tied, 3-3. Connolly had not scored in 14 games. That's his ninth of the season. Game tied, 3-3.

13:30 left: They announced it as a Boyes goal. I'd like to see another replay on that. We'll see if that holds. The Buffalo PP is thus 2 for 7 tonight.

13:00 left: They change it back to a Connolly goal.

11:07 left: Terrible Montador giveaway but Miller stops Bergeron from the slot. Shots are 5-5 in the period.

6:00 left: Still tied at 3-3, which is a nightmare for your deadline-nearing scribe.

4:05 left: Good stop by Miller on Recchi after Boyes failed to get the puck out. Shots are 41-28 for Buffalo (8-7 for Sabres in this period.

2:35 left: Grier fails on a tap-in of a great Vanek pass after a Vanek steal at the line. Bigger point: I don't want Thomas Vanek passing the puck down low to Mike Grier EVER. Gotta shoot.

End-3rd: Remember my OT stats at the top of this blog. Go get em. Here we go at 3-3. Shots are 41-29. Sabres move a point ahead of Carolinq with their eighth of the road trip. Now going for No. 9.

Second Period

Of note: The Bruins' PR staff is one of the best in the league. Pregame notes are stellar and they produce between-periods and post-game information sheets the like of which every team should copy (hint, hint, Sabres). Here's a nugget they just passed out -- The Bruins are 37-4-4 in games in which they've lead at any point. That's points in 41 of 45 games. Pretty staggering. But there's this addendum: Two of the four losses were to Buffalo, on Dec. 15 in HSBC Arena and here on Jan. 20.

7:58 p.m: The puck is dropped.

19:37 left: Miller stops Recchi on a play set up by a terrible blind back pass by Mancari. He'll get a one-way ticket never to return with plays like that. 

17:40 left: Sekera stopped and Connolly just fails to get the rebound.

14:17 left: Thomas with more robbery, including a diving stop on a Connolly rebound. The play ends, the scrum ensues and Chara is right in the middle with Grier. In the end, McQauid and Grier go for roughing. The Sabres have a 19-18 edge in shots in this game; it was once 10-3 for Boston.

13:06 left: Chara goes for boarding and that was a terrible call. He pushed Montador down and Montador slid 10 feet and hit the boards with a thud. 

12:47 left: Thomas robs Vanek but another penalty, Seidenberg for cross checking. That was legit. So it's a 4-on-3 for the Sabres for 30 seconds, then it will be 5 on 3.

10:43 left: The two-man edge was for 1:10 and the Sabres didn't score as Stafford fanned on one shot, passed too hard to Vanek on another. Thomas made good stops on Pominville and Boyes. And now the Sabres get a too many men on the ice penalty. Not good.

8:34 left: Grier and Pominville block Chara shots but just as the penalty ends, the big guy gets in tight to feed Ryder. His first shot is stopped but Recchi bangs in the rebound. Special teams, special teams. Bruins lead, 2-0.

8:07 left: Big answer. Ennis gets in tight, holds it, holds it, hold it and flips it up and in off McQuaid from the goal line just to the right of the net. Ennis' 15th. Bruins lead, 2-1. Sabres their first goal on their 27th shot of the night. 

5:49 left: Another Boston penalty. Boychuk for holding. The Sabres have a 19-6 bulge in shots on goal in this period. Doesn't seem like the ice is tilted that much but Buffalo has been good. Except on the power play. Here's another chance.

5:00 left: What a play by Sekera to save a breakaway by Brad Marchand, who was off to the races after Butler missed the puck at the Boston line. But Sekera quickly caught up to Marchand so no chance for short-handed goal No. 13 against Buffalo. As for this power play ....

3:40 left: No shots on goal on the PP.

2:52 left: Another Boston penalty, Kaberle for tripping. Sabres should decline.

1:08 left: I take it back. Vanek half fans on an Ennis pass but gets enough of it to chip it over Thomas. Great play at the point a few second earlier by Myers to keep the puck in after his point shot got blocked. Game tied, 2-2.

48.9 left: Big bout at center ice between McQuaid and Gaustad. Lots of shots but decision to McQuaid on that one.

8.2 left: Another scrum that's really nothing until Gerbe sent a Bruin flying. Eventually, Lucic and McCormick slug it out and the place is going wild. That was a pretty ill-advised shove by Gerbe. Butler ended up with the extra penalty for roughing.

End-2nd: We're tied at 2-2. Wild period. Sabres had a 22-7 edge in shots and it's 33-22 through two. 

First Period

7:07 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

19:20 left: Big cheer as Chara takes the ice for the first time. And the crowd is chanting "Cha-ra, Cha-ra"

18:04 left: Miller with some robbery on Nathan Horton, who took a pass and walked right around Connolly. A few seconds earlier, Chara drilled Pominville in the corner. He only knows one way to play.

17:06 left: McCormick and Campbell talk, look at each other and drop 'em in the corner. Big decision to McCormick drew a few gasps from the crowd.

15:17 left: Have to like the Bruins' skating and physical play so far. Sabres haven't done much in either department other than McCormick's scrap. Shots are 4-1 for Boston.

13:29 left: A definite smoke smell wafting up into the press box where I'm sitting. Hey you people in the balcony, what's going on down there? Security! By the way, Thornton goes for interference for Boston.

13:24 left: There goes the Buffalo power play. Myers for tripping. 

12:43 left: Leopold just fails to get away, then the Bruins lose the puck again and Leopold and Pominville are in on Thomas on a 2-on-0. But Thomas stops the Leopold shot.

11:06 left: With the Sabres getting completely outplayed a goal was bound to happen. Great 3-on-2 by Boston. Krejci to Lucic to Horton for a goal-mouth tap in. Bruins lead, 1-0. Shots are 9-3.

8:15 left: Great save by Thomas on McCormick from right in front. Sabres have just four shots but two A-1 scoring chances as Lindy Ruff likes to call them.

5:05 left: Thomas stones Pominville from 5 feet after a Connolly feed. Sabres much better since the Boston goal, strangely enough. Shots are now 12-9 for the Bruins.

2:17 left: Miller with a good stop on Adam McQuaid from in front a few seconds after what was at least Connolly's third grievous giveaway of the period. Couple inquiries on the lines and I just realized I forgot 'em (sorry). The Sabres ran out Niedermayer-McCormick-Grier, Gerbe-Gaustad-Mancari, Vanek-Connolly-Pominville and Stafford-Boyes-Ennis. Defense pairs are Montador-Sekera, Butler-Myers, Morrisonn-Leopold.

End-1st: With Miller making a save on Recchi in the final 30 seconds, the Boston lead stays at 1-0 through one. Shots were 15-11. Miller and Thomas were far and away the best players on the ice.

Habs' owner criticizes NHL on Chara

BOSTON -- The Zdeno Chara story isn't going away any time soon. Police agencies in Quebec are launching probes about whether to charge Chara with, I presume, assault in the wake of the Max Pacioretty hit.

And late this afternoon, Habs owner Geoff Molson issued this statement on the team's Web site decrying the NHL's lack of suspension in the case. 

Among the highlights:

"The news of the NHL decision yesterday was a hard blow for both the players and fans of the Montreal Canadiens. It was one which shook the faith that we, as a community, have in this sport that we hold in such high regard."

"The Montreal Canadiens organization does not agree with the decision taken yesterday by the National Hockey League. We can assure you that we have made our position clear to Commissioner Gary Bettman."

"Our organization believes that the players’ safety in hockey has become a major concern, and that this situation has reached a point of urgency. At risk are some of the greatest professional athletes in the world, our fan base and the health of our sport at all levels.

"We understand and appreciate hockey being a physical sport, but we do not accept any violent behavior that will put the players’ health and safety at risk. On this specific issue, I am asking for the support of the 29 other NHL owners, to address urgently this safety issue. And I am willing to play a leadership role in coordinating this group effort."

Molson said Habs GM Pierre Gauthier plans to make this a primary issue at next week's GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. Stay tuned.

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

 

Hecht, Weber out; Mancari, Morrisonn in

BOSTON -- Another curveball to the Sabres lineup. Jochen Hecht said yesterday he was good to go tonight and Lindy Ruff seemed to think the same. Instead, the Sabres have decided to hold Hecht out for tonight's game against the Boston Bruins and have brought Mark Mancari back from Portland. Tim Connolly has been dealing with a sore arm from blocking a shot Tuesday in Pittsburgh but will play. Thomas Vanek and Mike Grier will return as scheduled.

On defense, Shaone Morrisonn's one-game scratch from the lineup is over and he's returning tonight. Mike Weber, who replaced him Tuesday, is back in the press box.

"He's had a pretty rough stretch with goals against," coach Lindy Ruff said of Morrisonn. "We're trying to  keep the guys in going the best. I thought he had a little bit of a tough spell and maybe a game off [would help]. I thought Weber was OK in the [Pittsburgh] game. I'd like to see Morrisonn in again too."

Ryan Miller will start in goal tonight against Tim Thomas, who continues to lead the NHL in goals-against (1.97) and save percentage (.939). Thomas, however, is just 8-9-3, 3.14, .897 against the Sabres in his career. This year, he's 2-0-1, 2.52, .917.

Miller is 3-0-1 against the Bruins this year but his stats (3.17, .913) are inflated by Buffalo's 7-6 win on Jan. 1. His career numbers are 19-5-7, 2.61, .914.

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

Chara: 'It was just a hockey play'

BOSTON -- Zdeno Chara did not take part in the Bruins' optional skate today in TD Garden but he emerged in the Bruins locker room this morning and took a few questions from the media about the Max Pacioretty incident and its aftermath.

Obviously, Chara said he was satisfied the NHL did not suspend him for the play. He also said he understood Pacioretty's angry reaction in an interview from his hospital bed last night with TSN.

"I totally understand. He's in the hospital so he's got the right to be emotional so I respect that," Chara said. "I obviously feel bad he got hurt. As a hockey player we all feel bad when something like that happens. ... I'm wishing him to a fast recovery and hopefully he'll be back on the ice soon. That's all we love to do. We love to be hockey. When we go out there, we take risks and sometimes we do get hurt. But it's just very unfortunate."

Chara denied Pacioretty's assertion that he intentionally drove the Montreal player into the stanchion by the Bell Centre benches.

"It was just a hockey play that developed," Chara said. "I know deep down I didn't do it intentionally. I said it before it's not my style. It's not what I try to do. I never try to hurt anybody. I play physical. I play hard. That's not what I intended to do."

"There's always going to be two sides to that," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "We're supportive of our player. We know he didn't do it on purpose. It wasn't intentional. But at the same time, I understand their frustration at the other end becaue we've been on the other side of the coin (think Matt Cooke-Marc Savard), and it's normal to be frustrated."

The Chara interview only lasted about two minutes before Chara was whisked away by a Bruins PR official. Here's the audio from the session:


Zdeno Chara

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

Inside the NHL -- Live Chat

Pacioretty: 'I am upset and disgusted' with no Chara ban

BOSTON -- Montreal's Max Pacioretty talked to TSN's Bob McKenzie from his hospital bed Wednesday night and he had plenty to say about the fact Zdeno Chara is playing tonight against the Sabres. Chara was not suspended by the NHL for his devastating hit on Pacioretty in Tuesday's game.

"I am upset and disgusted that the league didn't think enough of [the hit] to suspend him," Pacioretty told McKenzie. "I'm not mad for myself, I'm mad because if other players see a hit like that and think it's OK, they won't be suspended, then other players will get hurt like I got hurt."

For his part, Chara said the play was an accident and he had no intent of riding Pacioretty into the stanchion by the benches. Pacioretty -- who has a severe concussion and fractured cervical vertebra -- isn't buying that.

I felt he did mean to do it. I would feel better if he said he made a mistake and that he was sorry for doing that, I could forgive that," Pacioretty said. " ... I believe he was trying to guide my head into the turnbuckle. We all know where the turnbuckle is. It wasn't a head shot like a lot of head shots we see but I do feel he targeted my head into the turnbuckle."

In a related matter, the Ottawa Sun is reporting  mega NHL sponsor Air Canada is threatening to pull out its sponsorships of the league unless something is done about head shots. More fodder for the league's GMs to talk about when they meet next week in Boca Raton, Fla.

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

Chara will meet Sabres after no fine, no suspension

BOSTON -- Zdeno Chara will play against the Sabres tomorrow night. The Boston Bruins defenseman did not get a suspension or a fine for his hit on Montreal's Max Pacioretty Tuesday in the Bell Centre. The Canadiens announced today that Pacioretty has a concussion and a fractured vertebrae. Scary stuff. 

Seventy-four percent of you in our poll earlier today said Chara deserved at least a one-game ban. The league apparently did not agree. Tomorrow should be interesting. Chara and the Sabres aren't on the best of terms. 

ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun has tweeted the statement of NHL arbiter Mike Murphy in this case. In part, Murphy said, "I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous. This was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface."

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

Practice report: Vanek, Grier, Hecht all back

BOSTON -- Sabres practice is complete in Boston University's Agganis Arena and here's how the roster shapes up today:

1). Thomas Vanek, Mike Grier and Jochen Hecht all skated in regular jerseys and coach Lindy Ruff confirmed they are good to go for tomorrow's game against the Bruins

2). All three Portland guys (Mark Parrish, Luke Adam and Mark Mancari) were sent back to the minors.

3). Jhonas Enroth remains here .... and Patrick Lalime is not. Post-practice update: Ruff said Lalime has a sore knee and that's why he didn't skate.

4). So the line shakeups result in this look for today: Pominville-Hecht-Vanek, Ennis-Boyes-Stafford, Gerbe-Connolly-McCormick and Niedermayer-Gaustad-Grier. 

Here's post-practice audio from Ruff, Vanek and Hecht.


Lindy Ruff


Thomas Vanek


Jochen Hecht

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

Chara verdict hangs over Sabres-Bruins prep

BOSTON -- Greetings from Beantown as the Sabres' see-the-USA tour continues today with practice beginning in the 11:30-11:45 a.m. range at Boston University's Agganis Arena. The TD Garden is unavailable due to tonight's Celtics-Clippers game (and I'm planning on getting a look at Blake Griffin in that one).

The Sabres' goal today is simply to get healthy and find out whether Thomas Vanek (flu) and the injured duo of Jochen Hecht and Mike Grier can play tomorrow against the Bruins. The B's, meanwhile, will be dealing with a major issue today as they should find out if there will be any NHL justice meted out to the guy Sabres fans love to hate, Zdeno Chara. 

Big Z took Montreal's Max Pacioretty into the stanchion between the benches last night during Boston's 4-1 loss the Bell Centre and Pacioretty had to be stretchered off the ice. Chara got a five-minute penalty for interference and a game misconduct. Seems OK based on the injury. But is it suspendable? While the play might be a little late, he's just riding Pacioretty off the puck. If it's anywhere on the ice, there's no injury at all.

But should Chara have known where they were? And what about the premeditation between the two after Pacioretty pushed Chara following an overtime goal last month and the Boston defenseman flew into a rage? And how about the Montreal-NHL factors? You stretcher a Canadien off the ice, lots of people think you get more attention than if, say, a Nashville Predator is hurt. In addition, NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell is off this case because his son Gregory plays for the Bruins and Mike Murphy will make the call.

The NHL is holding a noon conference call hearing and the league can't win: If Chara is suspended, people think it's because of the favoritism to old bastion Montreal. If Chara isn't suspended, it's because Campbell & Co. let the Bruins off the hook with Gregory on the roster. A lose-lose.

Here's my take -- the penalties were sufficient. Yes, the hit caused injury (Pacioretty is said to have feeling back in his extremities) but it wasn't a head shot and it was more of a fluke. The only way you suspend Chara, and it would only be for a game or two at most, is if you think he targeted Pacioretty in retribution. Not in this case. There was a puck play involved.

Check out the videos for yourself below, both the Jan. 8 incident and last night, and vote in our poll.

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

The Pacioretty goal/Chara outburst

The Chara-Pacioretty hit 

Wednesday morning papers

Happy Wednesday to you. With Mike Harrington on his way to Boston to cover the Sabres' game against the Bruins on Thursday, today's morning papers are brought to you by the home office. As usual, we'll start right here in the B-lo:

*Too many injuries, too many penalties, too much Marc-Andre Fleury.

There's no quibbling with the Buffalo Sabres' effort in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Consol Energy Center. But that trio of factors simply conspired against them in their first regulation loss in eight games since Terry Pegula became the team's owner.

Buffalo took an early lead on veteran Rob Niedermayer's second goal in two games at 2:47 of the first period but didn't score again. Fleury made 30 saves to beat Buffalo for the fourth time as Pittsburgh completed a sweep of the season series and pushed its winning streak over the Sabres to six games.

*With the Buffalo lineup suddenly rocked by injuries, the Sabres had to dip down for more help. Luke Adam got his fourth recall of the season and was joined by Mark Parrish, who got his first and was in the lineup against the Penguins.

"My main dream is to win a Stanley Cup and to get an opportunity here in Buffalo is fantastic," Parrish said. "I'm going to get out there and do anything I can to help."

*From the "If Rob Niedermayer can do it, I can, too, department," although the Penguins signed Zbynek Michalek this summer primarily because of his ability to prevent goals, the defenseman surely didn't figure to play 58 games without a goal. He finally ended that inglorious mark with a blast from the right point later in the second period. Michalek took a moment to celebrate, then raised his arms to the heavens.

"It's a goal I'll remember the rest of my life," he said. "Actually, I didn't see the puck go in. When the crowd reacted, I wasn't sure if it was mine. But everyone skated toward me, so I figured it was."

*According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the chances of hitting the Powerball -- 1 in 195,249,054 (you really have an equal chance of belching a live kitten). Chances the Penguins will score on the power play -- slightly better than that, certainly, but not by nearly enough. The Sabres killed all seven of Pittsburgh's power plays, but it took a toll.

"We did a great job on the power play, but the point is, too many of our offensive players sat on the bench for too long," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff. "I thought our battle was good, killing the shot lanes and blocking shot. Did a great job, but had too many players sitting out."

*The excuses were all there for the Portland Pirates, according to the Portland Press Herald. During the past four days, four of their top players had been called up to the NHL by the Buffalo Sabres. They had 17 skaters, one fewer than normal, available for the game. They were playing the Hershey Bears, the two-time defending Calder Cup champions.

Apparently, the Pirates don't make excuses. They just win hockey games.

Portland pulled out a 3-2 shootout victory against the Bears. It was the fourth consecutive win for the Pirates and lifted them into a tie with idle Manchester for first place in the AHL's Atlantic Division.

*TheAHL.com catches up with the Pirates, who have hit their stride since the calendar turned to 2011 and are surging back toward the top of the league’s standings with five weeks left to play.

*The Sabres' next opponent is coming off a loss, as Montreal easily rolled to a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in front of the requisite full house (21,273) at the Bell Centre, with goals by Lars Eller (two), Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski tightening up the race in the NHL’s Northeast Division, leaving Boston with a three-point lead over its longtime rival.

The game was marred by Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty, who was carted off on a stretcher. Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe says there was no defense for the hit (which is shown on the video at the top of the Globe story).

"In Chara's case, he was issued a five-minute penalty along with a game misconduct, ending his night. Generally speaking, throughout the league, he is widely respected. Chara's reputation should count for a great deal in this case - and it will - but the NHL's increasing sensitivity to head injuries makes him a target for discipline as surely as it would anyone else. He made a poor choice. He must pay the price."

*The Sabres and Hurricanes have played the same number of games, which means Buffalo is in control of its playoff destiny with 16 games remaining by virtue of its one-point lead for eighth place.

*With the sale of city of Glendale bonds frozen by the threat of a lawsuit by an Arizona-based watchdog group and the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes hanging in the balance, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he remains committed to keeping the team in town. But Bettman said the clock is ticking down on the deadline for a resolution.

Bettman did not set a deadline for the deal to get done, but admitted "we're getting close to the end" and that if things weren't completed "promptly" the league would have no choice by to relocate the franchise after 16 years in Arizona.

---John Vogl


Vote for your three stars

Live from Consol: Sabres vs. Penguins

Pboxview PITTSBURGH --Greetings from Level 7 atop the sensational Consol Energy Center, which is going to push the Bell Centre in Montreal for the title of my favorite NHL arena. I used to love old Mellon Arena next door but that was simply a character thing. The place was deficient in virtually every area. Now the Penguins have a palace. You can have a look at my seat with the shot at the left (click for bigger image).

Be sure to check my earlier post about this afternoon's tour of the building that I took. And that post has a link to a Flickr stream for a barrage of pictures I took. The press box even has massive projection screens a few feet in front of us to watch replays. A negative: This long rectangular hole in the desk for your plugs. It's an invitation to be dropping things to the floor all night. We'll make due.

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

6:30 p.m.: Jhonas Enroth takes the ice as Ryan Miller's backup with Patrick Lalime a scratch. There's something new. All seven defensemen are on the ice, so no idea on the scratch yet. I would put Weber back in and scratch Morrisonn. BUT the Sabres are on a winning streak. Lindy Ruff usually keeps things the same. Chris Kunitz is on the ice for Pittsburgh. He's been out 12 games and was listed as a game-time decision.

6:45 p.m.: Perhaps the Enroth decision is a concession to Ryan Miller's struggles against the Penguins. Since the start of the 2007-08 season, Miller is just 2-7-2 against Pittsburgh with a 3.57 goals-against average and .874 save percentage. You could make the case Enroth's best game as a Sabre was the 1-0 loss to the Penguins in November at HSBC Arena, and not any of his four wins. Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, is 9-3-2 against the Sabres, 2.67 and .909. This year, he's 3-0, 1.67 with a .958 save percentage (91/95)

7 p.m.: Shaone Morrisonn scratched and Mike Weber back in. Good call by Lindy.

Third Period

8:56 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

16:12 left: Sabres have the only two shots but they're not getting much pressure in the Pens' zone.

15:02 left: Miller stops Neal on Pens' first shot. Routine save but Neal has easily been Pittsburgh's most dangerous player tonight. 

14:36 left: Mancari stopped from in front but Gaustad goes for goaltender interference. Got the stick up on Fleury's mask. Call was actually high sticking.

12:33 left: Sabres again getting the job done on the PK. Pens are 0 for 6 tonight. But just as the penalty ends, Butler gets another one. Crosschecking in front. 

10:00 left: Sabres kill another one. 0 for 7. Pens could sure use Crosby or Malkin out there but keep in mind their power play is oddly ordinary much of the time even with those guys on the ice.

7:30 left: MIller stops Matt Cooke on a partial breakaway. Shots are 9-4 for Pittsburgh in the period.

6:54 left: Pens go up 3-1 as Mark Letestu tips home a Michalek shot from the point after a clear from Miller is intercepted.

In the end: Sabres lose 3-1. Shots are 31-30 for Pittsburgh. Not much happening down the stretch. On to Boston.

Second Period

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

19:00 left: I love this place. Press box is huge. Cooler filled with all kinds of pop. But the soft pretzels are a misnomer. They're like rocks. Oh well. 

18:35 left: I gripe about the pretzels and they put one in the net? Off the faceoff, Sabres lose Engelland and he cuts down the wal to Miller's left and feeds it in front to James Neal, who tips home his first with the Pens after the deal with Dallas. Game tied, 1-1. (Replay showed it actually went in off Leopold's skate).

15:18 left: Zbynek Michalek burns Miller with a rising shot from the right point. Over his left shoulder as he was down on his knees. Miller never moved, never saw it. Pens lead, 2-1. Michalek's FIRST of the season in 59 games. Yeesh.

14:06 left: Bad to worse. McCormick for tripping.

12:30 left: Connolly has been terrific on the PK tonight, both on the 5-on-3 in the first period and this one.

9:47 left: Shots are 5-5 in the period but it sure seems like the Pens have had a decided advantage in play. Kunitz goes for goaltender interference.

7:53 left: Pominville robbed on the doorstep.

5:40 left: Scrum in front of the Pittsburgh bench leaves Buffalo short-handed. Mancari pulled Ben Lovejoy out of the pile and starting punching (Lovejoy had just crushed Ennis a few seconds earlier). They both go. Gaustad got roughing but the player Gaustad was with at the Pens' bench got nothing. Bizarre.

3:30 left: Miller robs Kunitz on two whacks from the edge of the crease to get the Sabres out of the penalty unscathed. Shots are 8-7 for Pittsburgh in the period.

2:13 left: Too many men on Pittsburgh. And kudos to James Patrick and Ruff for working the officials hard to get the call. The Sabres had a 4-on-2 break and a couple Pens jumped off the bench and got into the play. 

End-2nd: Pens hold their 2-1 lead. Shots 22-20 for Buffalo. No shots for either side the last three minutes.

First Period

Sabres starters: Ennis-Connolly-Stafford-Butler-Myers. Goal: Miller
Penguins starters: Talbot-Rupp-Adams-Michalek-Martin. Goal: Fleury. 

7:09 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

18:15 left: Miller a great glove save on Tyler Kennedy. Mancari had a great chance toe the Sabres 30 seconds earlier alone in front but the shot just went wide.

17:34 left: Fleury robs Boyes from in front off a neat Adam feed.

17:13 left: And now Rob Niedermayer is on a goal streak. Incredible. Gets a loose puck at the blue line, cuts around Paul Martin and stuffs it home. Where has that been all year? The guy has, however, been much, much better the last 10 games. Sabres lead, 1-0.

16:11 left: The lines look like this -- Ennis-Connolly-Stafford, Gerbe-Gaustad-Mancari, Adam-Boyes-Pominville, McCormick-Niedermayer-Parrish. Defense pairs are Butler-Myers, Sekera-Montador and Leopold-Weber.

13:33 left: Miller with great saves back to back on Matt Cooke and Dustin Jeffrey.

12:43 left: Derek Engelland oes for high sticking. Good work down low by Gerbe and Gaustad.

11:13 left: Too many men on the ice for Buffalo. Sekera jumps on too early for Mancari, who had shattered his stick and was sprinting back to the bench.

10:37 left: Montador for boarding James Neal. Sabres two men down for 1:24. 

8:48 left: Great work by Buffalo. Myers blocked three shots on the 5-on-3 and Miller made two saves on Kris Letang. Weber made a blcok on the 5-on-4 that turned into an Ennis breakaway but Fleury made the save. No damage done.

6:00 left: Pens trying to get more physical. Big hit by Cooke on Connolly. But Sabres are still skating well. Fleury sharp as usual. Shots are 13-8 for Buffalo.

5:00 left: Adam goes for elbowing.

1:07 left: Miller has been a rock. Penalty killers solid. Shots are 15-12 for Buffalo. Terrific period from both teams, especially the goalies.

End-1st: 1-0 Buffalo. Shots remain 15-12.

A look around Consol Energy Center

DSCN1412PITTSBURGH -- The guys from The Ultimate Sports Road Trip arranged a tour today of the Consol Energy Center with longtime Penguins vice president Tom McMillan (who, by the way, was the team's beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during its 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup runs).  They invited me to tag along and it was a tremendous 45 minutes. The NHL's newest building cost $321 million to build and it's simply spectacular.

Among so many neat facts I learned are these: There are 66 suites because, of course, 66 was Mario Lemieux's number. The capacity is 18,087 because, of course, 87 is for Sidney Crosby. The Penguins loved features in the buildings in Minnesota, Columbus and Phoenix and used several here. I can vouch for Minnesota's open upper concourse being a hit that the Pens did even better. 

All the seats are black and there are a few rows of gold thrown in. It creates a neat wave effect and, as McMillan pointed out, "When it's empty, you know it's a Pittsburgh arena." The Penguins had a lot of pressure on them, he noted, because the new facilities of the Pirates and Steelers are very well received by fans. This one is no different.

DSCN1386There are amazing interactive displays in the concourse highlighting the team's history and a fascinating mural of the faces of Lemieux made up of small pictures of fans who donated to his foundation. Suite 66 on the ice level allows select fans to see the team coming on and off the ice behind a glass wall. Lemieux's personal trophies are housed in the room (left). The upper concourse -- not a premium area -- is a huge glass wall facing the skyline that fans from all over the building come to visit. The architecture, including plenty of open beams in the bowl and concourses, is a tribute to Pittsburgh's industrial past.

Giant electronic boards in the lobby face the glass wall outside and fans can view information on them. When the Penguins score a goal, they all turn red. So if you're driving by, you know something good happened. Neat touch.

The 70,000-pound scoreboard is a behemoth. The video section alone is bigger than the whole Mellon Arena board, which dated to 1996. I could go on and on. I have yet to get to the press box and I'll take a shot up there. But I created a Flickr stream for all of this you can check out by clicking here. Each picture has some description on it. Be sure to check it out.

The Penguins have about 15,000 season tickets and hold back 3,000 for individual sales. Tonight is their 199th straight sellout. It's a tough, tough ticket. But if you get your hands on one, it's worth the trip. The place is terrific.

Back to work. I'll see you again around faceoff.

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

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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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