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Ehrhoff set to return for Sabres, wants to add excitement

Christian Ehrhoff, who has been out since suffering a rib injury Dec. 30, has been cleared to play for the Sabres and will return Tuesday when Buffalo visits New Jersey.

In addition to helping on the ice, the defenseman wants to bring excitment off the ice, too.

"I'm happy to get back, and hopefully we can get out of this hole tomorrow and get a win," Ehrhoff said after practice in Northtown Center in Amherst. "Just bring some confidence and some fun. I think it's been a tough few weeks for the guys that have been playing, and I'll just try to come in and bring a little excitement and try to give them some confidence."

He is the only injured player who is set to return. Defenseman Robyn Regehr and left wing Tyler Ennis skated today but aren't ready. Forward Paul Gaustad did not skate, while forward Brad Boyes also missed the session with the flu.

Captain Jason Pominville, meanwhile, said the team remains committed to winning with Lindy Ruff as coach and Darcy Regier as the general manager. His interview, and Ruff's chat, are below.

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Jason Pominville

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Live from the Shadow of the Arch: Sabres vs. Blues

Old adversary Hitchcock feels for Ruff as Sabres go through the 'oh-nos'

ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock goes back a long way with Lindy Ruff. Everyone remembers the 1999 Stanley Cup final against the Dallas Stars and there was the memorable 2006 first-round series against Hitchcock's Philadelphia Flyers that was won by the Sabres in six games. Buffalo's 8-2 win in Game Two led to this classic Lindy-Hitch postgame exchange that we always find any excuse to play here whenever possible (the voice going at it with Hitch, by the way, is our man Jerry Sullivan).

But Hitchcock and Ruff are friends too. They served as assistant coaches together on Team Canada's gold-medal team at the 2010 Olympics and Hitchcock said he understands how tough the Sabres' current plight is on a coach.

"The feeling that when I watch them play, is they go great and there's the 'oh-no.' And when the oh-no comes in, it's the hardest thing in coaching to put the brakes on," Hitchcock told me today in Scottrade Center. "It's hard to even get an evaluation on what you need or whatever. They got the 'oh-nos' going. They play very well and then you get a bad play and it seems like every bad play ends up in your net. I'm feeling for Lindy. We've all been through that stuff."

"We were through that in Columbus. We took the big step, made the playoffs [in 2009] and we're thinking things are really gonna go and then we get the oh-no games going. We're on the wrong side of every darn road game so you get a bad feeling amongst your team. You feel for the guy."

But don't look for Hitchcock to have too much sympathy. Hitchcock is 21-5-6 since taking over for Davis Payne on Nov. 6 and his Blues are the NHL's best defensive team (1.94 GAA).  They've won back-to-back 1-0 games and it took until the final six minutes to get the goal to beat Edmonton on Thursday, so Hitchcock wants more offense, starting tonight.

"I know what's going on on the road with Buffalo," he said. "We've had this tendency the last little while to let teams hang around and not discourage them. We want to get that out right away, get going and make them defend as much as possible."

For plenty more neat insight from Hitchcock on his team, tonight's game and the Sabres' plight, click the audio file below. One of the main voices you hear asking questions is Hall of Famer Bernie Federko, the longtime Blues center and now a television analyst for the team.

Ken Hitchcock

---Mike Harrington

Vanek on Sabres' road skid: 'It's embarrassing'

ST. LOUIS -- The Sabres have lost a franchise-record 11 straight games on the road, completely out of character for a team that's been good away from home in recent years -- and one that started this year 8-3 in enemy rinks. Thomas Vanek didn't mince any words today when talking about it.

"It's embarrassing," Vanek said after the pregame skate in Scottrade Center. "Since day one when I got here, I always prided myself -- and it's what I learned from the older guys -- to be a good road team which I thought we've always done a great job at. Right now it's a mistake and it goes south for us. Up front, we're not doing much either."

The Sabres have been trying to put on a happy face this week. Practice in Chicago was very upbeat and guys were relaxed at yesterday's optional skate here. But that's often an athlete's facade.

"Mentally, it's tough. I'm not going to lie here and say we're doing just great because we're not," Vanek said. "Obviously guys are trying to fight through it and bring a good attitude which is positive. We know sometimes it takes one [win] and it would be good to do it tonight against a very good hockey club."

The Sabres growing problem is other teams' knowledge of the streak. No one wants to be the team to let Buffalo up off the mat. Teams are going to get the Sabres down fast and let the bad feelings re-emerge.

"I would do the same thing if I was on the other side," Vanek said.

"I imagine [the Blues] are licking their chops. They should be," said coach Lindy Ruff. "Any time you see a team and the end of a road trip that's struggled, I'm sure they're going to really, really want to come after us, press us with all five guys."

Vanek is in his first slump of the season, with no goals in seven games and just one in his last 11. He didn't have much to offer on his own game.

"It hasn't been my personal best stretch but I'm trying to play the system hard," he said. "When I get a chance, I just need to bury it."

In other news, Patrick Kaleta appears to be good to go but T.J. Brennan did not come to the arena today because of the flu and will likely be replaced in the lineup tonight by Joe Finley. It will be Ryan Miller in goal against red-hot Jaroslav Halak, who has posted back-to-back 1-0 shutouts over Dallas and Edmonton and is working a shutout streak of more than 148 minutes.

Click below to hear from Vanek and Ruff.

Thomas Vanek

Lindy Ruff

---Mike Harrington

Standings update: One point from the basement

ST. LOUIS -- The Sabres are in a situation where they can't be looking up at eighth place because it's so far away (nine points). They have to be looking back and, as Satchel Paige sort of said, lots of somethings are gaining on them.

Look what happened Friday night:

---Montreal got a point in losing in a shootout at Pittsburgh, 5-4. Had the Habs won the shootout, they would have moved ahead of the Sabres and dropped them into 12th in the East.

---Carolina blanked Washington, 3-0

---Tampa Bay won at Dallas,  2-1.

It all means the non-playoff teams in the East look like this:

9. Toronto 51 points
10. Winnipeg 49
11. Buffalo 43
12. Montreal  43
13. Islanders 42
14. Tampa Bay 42
15. Carolina 42

It's possible by the end of Saturday night the Sabres could be in LAST PLACE in the East but the combination is tricky. Montreal is at Toronto, Carolina is at the Islanders and Tampa is at Phoenix. The big thing is Carolina would need to win in overtime and have the Sabres lose and both teams could pass Buffalo. Montreal and Tampa Bay need just one point if the Sabres lose to move ahead on tiebreakers.

Crazy. I guess for $65 million, you too can build a last-place team.

---Mike Harrington

Light day after a long night

ST. LOUIS -- I know fans wanted Lindy Ruff skating the Sabres into the ground this afternoon but that's not the reality in today's NHL. The Sabres have played five games in the last seven nights and got here from Winnipeg after 3 a.m. So today in Scottrade Center, it was just an optional skate. Only a few players, plus several injured players were on the ice along with goaltenders Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth.

"To practice after five games in seven nights and to get in at basically three in the morning, it doesn't make any sense," said Ruff, who put his team through plenty of extra video work for Saturday night's game against the red-hot St. Louis Blues.

Ruff said he'd give Patrick Kaleta, who took a shot to the foot Thursday,  "the 90 percent nod" that Kaleta will play tonight. Ruff was far more pessimistic in Winnipeg but said today a lot of the pain in Kaleta's foot had subsided. Ruff said the Sabres would not call up a forward from Rochester and indicated he could use 6-foot-8 Joe Finley up front if Kaleta can't go; Finley has been here as a healthy scratch on defense.

Plenty of injured guys skated today with the list including Paul Gaustad, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Ennis. Ehrhoff continues to be the closest to returning. Ennis is trying to bounce back from what Ruff termed a "major setback" with his high ankle sprain; Ennis was injured Oct. 22, returned in December to play eight games and was hurt again Dec. 17 in Pittsburgh.

The Blues are a daunting challenge for the Sabres as they boast the NHL's best home record (20-3-3), the league's top goals against average (1.94) and a goalie in Jaroslav Halak who is working on two straight shutouts and more than 148 minutes without allowing a goal. Good team to be playing when you've lost 11 in a row on the road and can't score.

"We're going to havve to risk some things," Ruff said. "They play so well defensively and their goaltender has been lights-out. We're going to have to get some places we haven't been in previous games and take some chances."

To hear more from Ruff on the injuries, the Blues' hot run and Brad Boyes'  return to St. Louis,  click the audio file below.

Lindy Ruff

---Mike Harrington

Worst Sabres team in a decade? This year's team is giving 2002-03 a run

I've been covering the Sabres for a decade, and the worst team was the first team. This year's squad is giving that one competition.

The 2002-03 edition went 27-37-10-8 (10 ties and eight overtime losses). The Sabres finished 12th in the Eastern Conference and 26th overall in the NHL. They had a 12-game winless streak, going 0-10-2.

They couldn't score, ranking 25th in the league with 190 goals. Only Miroslav Satan (26) and Ales Kotalik (21) topped 20.

They were mediocre at stopping the puck, ranking 13th in goals allowed. The crease was a constant question mark because neither Martin Biron, Ryan Miller nor Mika Noronen could take control. They all finished with losing records.

There was a steady stream of call-ups, and coach Lindy Ruff evaluated the games of Norm Milley and Jason Botterill with quotes such as, "He tried to work at it," and, "We knew what we were getting." (As an aside, I didn't have to look those up. Those are probably the two most memorable quotes Ruff has ever given me.)

There was also little hope. Bankruptcy was coming, and no one knew who'd be in control of the team. There was no embraceable player to latch on to, the kind you believe can carry a team by himself.

It's similar this year.

Following Thursday's 4-1 loss to Winnipeg, the Sabres are 19-23-5. They are 11th in the Eastern Conference, with a big caveat -- if the Islanders, Canadiens and Lightning win their games in hand, the Sabres will drop to 14th among the 15 teams in the East. They are 23rd in the NHL but could fall to 26th.

They have lost 11 straight on the road. They haven't won back-to-back games since Nov. 11.

They can't score, ranking 25th in the NHL, the same as 2002-03. Once again, they have only two players (Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville) on pace to score at least 20 goals.

They are worse at stopping the puck, ranking 26th. Miller is 43rd in goals-against average (3.16) and 40th in save percentage (.897). Enroth started well and is playing OK lately, but he couldn't take control while Miller was injured.

There's been a steady stream of call-ups, and Ruff has repeatedly said he's had to change his system and game plans because of them.

And, once again, there's little hope. Ownership is in strong hands, but like 2002-03, fans don't see anyone in control of the team. The players aren't responding to the coach. The general manager has not made one move to alter the skid. There are few, if any, embraceable players capable of carrying the team.

At least in 2002-03, the Sabres knew they were bad. They traded Chris Gratton, Stu Barnes, Vaclav Varada and Rob Ray to try and build for the future. One prize was Danny Briere, who did indeed help the future.

This year's squad keeps saying it will be better when healthy. There's no talk of building for the future.

If they don't, the question of the worst team in a decade becomes a no-brainer.

---John Vogl

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Live from The Peg: Sabres vs. Jets

The coldest corner in North America

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Be sure to join our live game blog tonight at 8:30 from the MTS Centre in absolutely horrifically frigid Winnipeg. Paul Gaustad is out tonight and probably the next two games as well and Lindy Ruff said a forward may join the team tomorrow in St. Louis.

The building here is really neat. A tiny little bandbox. Our man John Vogl used to work in Georgia and he loved Atlanta trips. He's still mourning their loss. So on the day the Sabres make their first trip to Winnipeg in 1996, give a look back to June at this link to Vogl's Winnipeg-Atlanta comparison.

IMG_0313I went somewhere today that Atlanta doesn't have -- the coldest intersection in North America (click the pic for a bigger view). That's the billing of the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street in downtown Winnipeg. The temperature was minus-27 Celsius and the windchill was minus-35 Celsius according to the radio (so we're talking minus-16F and wind chills of minus-31F). Your breath barely escaped your mouth. You could feel your cheeks. I could hear John Facenda in my ears because this truly was The Frozen Tundra.

When I took my glove off to snap the shutter,  I could feel my hand freezing. What's that they say about how many seconds it takes for exposed flesh to freeze? Believe me, it's true. Went to a convenience store underground -- a lot of buildings are mercifully connected -- and the clerk asked where I was from. She said in broken English, "Winnipeg is worse than Buffalo. Crazy freezing, eh?"

Eh. Crazy freezing. But mighty friendly people. Stay tuned.

---Mike Harrington

Long Live Winnipeg's Queen

Bud-QueenWINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Be sure to check out my conversation in Friday' paper with Sabres assistant coach Teppo Numminen about his time here as a member of the Jets from 1988-1996. (If you read this post earlier, it's in Friday's paper, not today's. All these days on the road and it's easy to lose track).

Numminen had fond memories of the fans and the old Winnipeg Arena and admitted the players couldn't actually believe the Jets were really moving, even as they were preparing for their final playoff game against Detroit in '96.

One thing Numminen also recalled -- and a point also made by Danny Gare and anyone else who I talked to that got to Jets' now-imploded old home -- was the large mural of Queen Elizabeth II that hung from one end of the building (left--click for a bigger view) between the Canadian and U.S. flags and became its signature element.

Visiting players often spent warmups trying to shoot pucks at the Queen's face and Gare and I broke up laughing Wednesday when Gare recounted a story on the air with Rick Jeanneret in the mid-90s when a puck deflected into the mural during a game. "IT HIT THE QUEEN, IT HIT THE QUEEN" was Jeanneret's call, with Gare's high-pitched impression hard to duplicate here.

News compatriot Budd Bailey was on the Sabres beat in the mid-90s and penned a welcome back to the NHL to Winnipeg on his personal blog in May when it was announced that the Atlanta Thrashers were moving to Manitoba. Also included with the entry and reprinted here is a picture of Bailey at center ice with the Queen behind him. As Bailey explained it, he and former Sabres announcer Pete Weber went out there and took pictures of each other with the Queen for posterity.

Where's the Queen now? She's not in the MTS Centre, although many Jets fans certainly wanted her there. This story from last spring said she was in a warehouse in Ontario.

---Mike Harrington

Inside the NHL chat with Bucky Gleason at 10 a.m.

More thoughts on Lindy

CHICAGO -- Lindy Ruff is out of answers with this team. No doubt. But can you blame coaching for Ville Leino's horrific back pass Wednesday night in Chicago? Can you blame coaching for a veteran like Jordan Leopold being on the ice for eight goals against in two games? I don't know about that.

I can blame Ruff for not forcing more accountability from his players. It's my opinion Leino had to sit after his mistake. For a long time. Ruff pointed out correctly Paul Gaustad was hurt and Jochen Hecht was sick. He made some reference to Drew Stafford not playing but that wasn't clear if that was an illness or a benching. He was short on forwards and couldn't be sitting anybody.

Perhaps. But Leino needed to sit for at least a shift to send a message to this team that kind of play is far from acceptable. Especially in a tie game on the road when things were going decently for once.

As for what happened in the postgame press conference, let the record show that Ruff's abrupt departure was not any sort of epic blowup or some sign he's cracking under the pressure of the team's troubles.

I've seen Ruff far more annoyed at other press conferences -- and more annoyed at me than he was tonight. I asked a couple pointed questions, he decided he didn't want to answer and he left. No big deal really. Been there, done that with Ruff and all kinds of managers in baseball. Except for the "Mike, you coach" crack he threw over his shoulder as he headed into his office. I thought that was actually a pretty good line!

And this reminder: Ruff isn't getting fired no matter what  you hear.  Terry Pegula loves him. It would be a stunner if anything like that happened.

Anyway, if you haven't heard it yet through other outlets, he's the audio from Ruff and Ville Leino. On to Winnipeg. Brrrr.

Lindy Ruff

Ville Leino

---Mike Harrington

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Live from The Windy City: Sabres vs. Blackhawks

Pregame update: Enroth to start in goal

IMG_0301CHICAGO -- Jhonas Enroth has led the Sabres on to the ice at the United Center (left, view from The News seat) and will start in goal tonight against the Blackhawks against Corey Crawford.

The game, remember, is a 7:30 start and you Time Warner blackoutees can watch on NBC Sports Network. No MSG for tonight.

Enroth is 8-8-3 with a 2.42 goals against and .924 save percentage (Ryan Miller is 11-13-2,  3.12, .898). In his last four games, including Monday's relief outing in Detroit, Enroth is 0-1-2 but has a 1.90 GAA and .949 save percentage.

"He went through a tough stretch and I asked him what was different," coach Lindy Ruff told me today during his pregame session with the Buffalo media. "He said he's battled harder. ... If you look at his last couple starts especially, pucks aren't going through him. When he was struggling, he had some go in under the arm, some long-range ones going in. When a goalie struggles, pucks tend to go through  you. When they're playing well, they seal pretty good and he's doing a good job of that."

Ruff said Patrick Kaleta, who missed practice Tuesday with the flu, is OK and will play tonight. Cody McCormick and Joe Finley are expected to be the healthy scratches, although McCormick is on the ice for warmups.

---Mike Harrington

Montador having fun as always in Chicago

CHICAGO -- Got a chance to catch up with former Sabre Steve Montador yesterday and he's enjoying his time in The Windy City. Who wouldn't with a four-year, $11 million contract?

Montador had a good run in Buffalo but his play fell off last season and he was actually scratched in Game Seven of the playoff series against Philadelphia.

"I've moved on," said Montador. "I enjoyed my time there, made good friends who I stay in contact with but the reality is I'm a blackhawk now and I'm very happy to be here.

Montador was a good guy to have in the locker room, an erudite fellow who did charity work in places like Africa and could be a good cutup too. A video Comcast sports put up last week with Montador and Hawks analyst Sarah Kustok has gone viral after an amorous fan went all Joe Namath/Suzy Kolber on her on live television. Check it out.

"Don't get me started on that. That was more for fun there," Montador said with a laugh. "Personally, I think Comcast kind of sold out their employee a little bit there. But she's fine with it. I'm fine with it. At the same time, they're trying to sell some air time and web time. Good for them I guess."

Cheap Plug Alert: Read more from Montador in my Sabres notebook in Thursday's Buffalo News.

---Mike Harrington

Ryan Miller reportedly pledges allegiance to Sabres again

Ryan Miller made it clear today he has not changed his mind. He wants to be a Buffalo Sabre.

Miller, who said during his struggles two months ago he wants to be a part of the team's future accomplishments, responded to persistent trade rumors today with a text message to a TSN reporter.

"I have not and will not ask for a trade," Miller reportedly said in the text. "I will fall on the 'Sabre' before that. Please no one ask me again."

Miller was rumored to have asked to be shopped earlier this season but emphatically denied it.

"I'm proud to be a Sabre, I'm excited for what we can accomplish moving forward and I want to be a part of it," Miller said in late November. "There's no reason for me to want to leave. ... I think the grass doesn't get much greener than it is here."

Miller lasted just more than a period during Monday's 5-0 loss to Detroit, allowing all the goals on 14 shots. With the Sabres continuing to struggle, trade talk and conversations about front-office and coaching shake-ups have intensified.

The Sabres, who visit Chicago tonight and play in Winnipeg on Thursday, did not have a morning skate. Mike Harrington will have more when he and the team arrive in United Center this afternoon.

---John Vogl

Senators' Alfredsson, Bruins' Chara named All-Star captains

The face of the Senators and the former anchor of their blue line have been named captains for this month's All-Star Game in Ottawa.

Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson and Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara have been selected to wear the C's and pick the teams for the NHL showcase. The All-Stars were selected last week, and each of them was asked to sumbit his top three picks for captain.

Alfredsson, who has played 1,098 games in Ottawa, was an obvious pick. The players also voted for Chara, the reigning Stanley Cup captain who played for the Senators from 2001 to '06. They will pick players for their teams in a draft Jan. 26.

Buffalo's Jason Pominville and Luke Adam will participate in the All-Star festivities Jan. 28-29 in Scotiabank Place.

---John Vogl

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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 |

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 |

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 |