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Quick warmup notes: Light down from the ceiling

Quickies from the Sabres-Penguins warmup:

---Something happened just as the Sabres took the ice. It's believed that a strobe light from the ceiling crashed to the ice and shattered just inside the Buffalo blueline. The house lights are at half, remember, when fans enter the building and immediately go to full when the players take the ice for warmups.

Glass was swept off the ice and some players left and returned to the locker room. Lindy Ruff came out and had a discussion with Jason Pominville, at which point Ryan Miller left the net and stopped facing shots, instead moving to center ice to do some light stretching. The Penguins' warmup at the zamboni end went on unaffected. Light crashing down kind of a metaphor for the season, isn't it?

UPDATE: The Sabres got an extra five minutes of warmup at the zamboni end after the penguins left.

---It will be Miller against Pittsburgh backup Brent Johnson after Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 11-4-2 in his career against Buffalo, played yesterday in Philadelphia.

---Evgeni Malkin leads the league in scoring with 70 points and had five in the Sabres' 8-3 loss Dec. 17 in Pittsburgh. Get this: Malkin has 29 points in 12 games this year against the Northeast Division.

---The Penguins announced this morning that winger James Neal, enjoying a breakout year with 30 goals, has signed a six-year, $30 million contract extension. The Sabres are paying Ville Leino $4.5 million. Just sayin. 

Join me at 12:30 for our game blog.

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

After demotion, benching, Vanek returns to Sabres' top line

Since returning from injury five games ago, Thomas Vanek has been all over the Sabres' lineup. He started Friday's loss to Montreal as the right winger for center Tyler Ennis and left wing Matt Ellis. Against Philadelphia on Thursday, he skated at right wing alongside Ennis and Nathan Gerbe.

Vanek's best moments this season have come as the left winger on the top line with Jason Pominville. He was back there today, with Derek Roy in the middle of Buffalo's top two scorers.

"Whoever you play with, you still just try to play your game and try to be good at it," Vanek said. "We had some chemistry. We haven’t been that long apart. We’ll have to ramp it up again. We played the last 10 minutes together [Friday], had a few good chances, I thought, and we’ll try to build off that."

Vanek could use a run starting with Sunday's afternoon visit by Pittsburgh. He has two goals and four points in the last 15 games.

"A lot of it is obviously confidence," Vanek said in First Niagara Center. "I’m just trying to focus on playing the game hard, get pucks deep and keep grinding it out. I’m sure [it’s down], especially when you’re not winning. Like I said, you try and just work hard, get to the net, get rebounds and tips and try to find your game again."

Vanek sat most of the first period Friday after taking a cross-checking penalty. He understands the message. Coach Lindy Ruff hopes so.

"You can only tell over time," Ruff said. "I’ve had meetings. The message wasn’t received the previous meetings. I thought after the St. Louis game it’s been cleaned up for a period of time, but to take that penalty last night again, it’s a selfish penalty and a total lack of discipline.

"We’ve ramped up a little more structure for that off ice for undisciplined penalties, so we’re going to deal with that internally. There’s going to be ramifications for those type of situations."

---John Vogl

Thomas Vanek

Lindy Ruff

Postgame video: Canadiens 4, Sabres 3 (SO)

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Live from the FNC: Sabres vs. Habs

Report: MSG, Time Warner Cable reach deal

The long standoff between MSG Networks and Time Warner Cable has ended, according to the New York Times. Gov. Cuomo will announce the deal this afternoon, the newspaper is reporting.

Read more on the agreement at this link.

--John Vogl

Habs trade Hal Gill to Nashville

The Montreal Canadiens will have a big hole on defense tonight in First Niagara Center as they have just traded 6-foot-7 Hal Gill and a conditional fifth round draft pick in 2013 to the Nashville Predators for Blake Geoffrion and Robert Slaney, as well as a second round draft pick in 2012.

Gill had played 53 games, averaging nearly 17 minutes. He had one goal, seven assists and a minus-7 rating. Geoffrion, 24, had no goals in 22 games for Nashville this season. He had six goals for Nashville last year -- including a hat trick March 20 in Buffalo, the game the Predators rallied from a 3-1 deficit with two goals by Geoffrion in the final three minutes and won in overtime, 4-3. Slaney has been in the minor leagues.

Geoffrion is the grandson of Hockey Hall of Famer Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, and the great-grandson of Hockey Hall of Famer Howie Morenz, both of whom were longtime Canadiens stars. He also was the first player raised in Tennessee to play for the Predators when he made his NHL debut last season.

So far, compensation for trades has been steep so that might bode well for the Sabres if they kick it into sell mode. Nashville gave up plenty for Gill, who will be a UFA. San Jose gave up a second-round pick to Tampa Bay Thursday night for ex-Sabre Dominic Moore (a second-rounder for Dominic Moore??!!), and Philadelphia gave up a second- and third-rounder to Dallas for defenseman Nicklas Grossman.

Stay tuned. 

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

Sabres back at it after Philly collapse

The Sabres didn't skate this morning and instead hunkered down in their locker room for a video session. Pretty standard for the second day of a back-to-back. Would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that popcorn-less session after last night's collapse in Philadelphia, where a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes turned into a 7-2 debacle.

"We still believe. We've just got to put together 60 minutes," Derek Roy insisted today. "For 20 minutes last night, we looked like a really, really good team. The last 40 we looked terrible."

Sure did. Blown defensive coverages all over the place, missed scoring opportunities, an 0-for-6 night on the power play and even a too many man on the ice penalty during one man advantage. It added up to one of the worst nights in recent team history. The team is so mentally fragile that once bad things happen, they're cooked.

"I don't know if it's mental toughness," said captain Jason Pominville. "They got momentum, they scored on a power play, we took a penalty we shouldn't have taken that led to 4-on-4 play and they scored on the power play again. We gave up opportunities they didn't even have to work for."

"You're in another building, youre up two goals and they go out and score a goal, you just have to go out there and keep making plays," Roy said. "You can't stray away from the game plan. You have to mentally be focused and know what you've got to do out there on the ice."

The Sabres meet Montreal tonight at 7:30 in First Niagara Center and the glass is half-full view is that Buffalo is 3-0 against the Habs this year -- all in the Bell Centre -- and has won six straight games vs. them overall.  Montreal, coached by former Sabres player and assistant Randy Cunneyworth, is 4-1-1 in its last six.

The Habs lead the NHL in penalty killing (88.9 percent overall and 91.9 percent on the road). Buffalo is 20th on the power play -- but went 0 for 6 last night, is 1 for 24 in the last nine games and just 4 for 47 since the calendar hit 2012. The Sabres failed twice last night with the man-advantage when a goal would have made it 3-0.

"We ended up having eight chances to put it away and when you don't put them away, it just fits what's been going on,"  said coach Lindy Ruff. Brad Boyes was point-blank, Thomas [Vanek] hits a post. We had some situations we didn't take advantage of and that was a killer. Special teams was a killer last night."

Ryan Miller will start in goal tonight, with Ruff admitting today he nearly put Jhonas Enroth back in during the third period last night. Cody McCormick and Marc-Andre Gragnani are the scratches.

Hear the full interviews from Ruff, Pominville and Roy below.


Lindy Ruff


Jason Pominville


Derek Roy

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

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Live from Sabres at Philadelphia

Enroth returns to net for Sabres, excited to face Flyers

PHILADELPHIA -- Jhonas Enroth has seen how raucous Flyers fans can get. He was in the net at the end of Game Seven when Philadelphia closed out its playoff series win over the Sabres last year. He's hoping that brief experience can help him tonight.

Enroth will start in goal for the Sabres for the first time since Jan. 18, ending Ryan Miller's season-high run of 10 straight games.

"I remember that it’s a really good atmosphere in here," Enroth said after the Sabres' optional morning skate in Wells Fargo Center. "The fans are crazy in here, and it’s really loud, so it’s going to be fun. I’m real excited to play here tonight."

Enroth hasn't started since a 6-2 loss in Chicago on Jan. 18. He is 0-6-2 in his last eight decisions. His last victory was Nov. 26 against Washington.

"I still feel pretty good about myself," Enroth said. "At the same time, my last game wasn’t really that good, so I’m going to just try to prove to myself that I’m still a good goalie."

To hear the interviews with Enroth and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, click the audio files below.

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Jhonas Enroth

Briere 'very, very surprised' by Leino's struggles with Sabres

PHILADELPHIA -- Just minutes after Ville Leino signed a six-year deal with the Sabres last summer, Danny Briere said by phone that the forward should excel in Buffalo. Briere, who was Leino's linemate with Philadephia for two seasons, is as shocked as anyone that Leino has just four goals and 15 points in 45 games.

"I’m very, very surprised with that, especially with the amount of offensive guys they have on that team," Briere said after the Flyers' morning skate in Wells Fargo Center. "I thought it would have clicked with a few of their players at least. I always felt that myself and Ville were kind of on the same page as far as the way we saw the game offensively when we were on the ice. I know when I was in Buffalo I had some great years as well playing with [Jason] Pominville and Jochen Hecht, so I thought for sure at least those two guys would click well with him.

"But chemistry is a funny thing. You just never know, and you never know from year to year just how things are going to come back. It’s one of those things you can’t take for granted. It was fun for the past two years playing with him, but at some point you have to move on. I still wish him the best and hope things turn around for him."

The Flyers host the Sabres tonight. Ilya Bryzgalov will be in net for Philadelphia after missing three games with the flu. Jaromir Jagr, who is also battling the flu, did not take part in the morning skate.

---John Vogl

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

Miller due for a rest soon

The Sabres began a stretch of four games in six nights with Tuesday's loss to the Devils.

Thursday's game against the Flyers starts a run of three games in four days, including a 12:30 p.m. start Sunday against the Penguins in First Niagara Center.

That means Ryan Miller is due for a rest soon. The Sabres' goalie has started 10 straight games.

"It’ll be a conversation I’ll have with Ryan today," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after practice in First Niagara Center. "But I think if you look at four in less than six [days] and an afternoon game in there with three in less than four [days], Jhonas [Enroth] is probably going to have to play one of these two [either Thursday in Philadelphia or Friday at home against Montreal]."

The complete audio of Ruff's interview is below.

Lindy Ruff

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Regehr, Boyes get maintenance days

The Sabres practiced today in First Niagara Center before leaving for Philadelphia to face the Flyers tomorrow night.

Forward Brad Boyes and defenseman Robyn Regehr were not on the ice, with coach Lindy Ruff saying both got "maintenance days" and should be ready to play Thursday.

Regehr was a little banged up after blocking a couple shots in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Devils.

The line combinations were:

Leino-Roy-Pominville

Gerbe-Ennis-Vanek

Stafford-Gaustad-Kaleta

Matt Ellis was centering a fourth line with Zack Kassian.

Spoiler alert: Read more about Ville Leino and his return to Philadelphia in Thursday's Buffalo News.

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

Hecht hopeful to return this season

The news sounded grim, even frightening, when delivered by Sabres coach Lindy Ruff on Jan. 24.

Veteran forward Jochen Hecht had suffered another concussion -- his second of the season and third in less than a year -- one that left him "really unstable."

Ruff described Hecht as "a mess," said he "couldn't focus" and that the team was worried about him.

"He's in a tough place right now," the coach said.

So the sight of Hecht smiling after a workout today was a welcome one for the team.

"I feel good," Hecht said in his first meeting with reporters since being hurt. "I rode the bike the last couple days. Now I’m at that point where I can start working out again and pump the intensity up slowly."

That's a point Ruff wasn't sure would come this season, or maybe ever.

"I really felt he was in a bad place when we left Jersey, that he may not bounce back from this one. But it seems with some of the treatment he's had that he's on the right track to coming back and skating again and may play."

Hecht had a non-surgical procedure done last week that he said involved the use of needles being placed in his back. It's worth noting that acupuncture has been used to treat post-concussion symptoms, although Hecht did not explicitly describe the procedure as that.

"It was pins and needles they put in the back, and medicine, and it took away some of those sensations I had," he said.

No timetable has been set for Hecht's return to the ice, but he's confident that will come this season.

"That’s why I’m working out and doing all the rehab again," he said, as sweat dripped from his forehead. "I still have to go through the bike rides where they monitor my heart rate and look that I’m symptom-free and I’m just going to go from there.

"It was a very tough day on me mentally, in New Jersey [when] I realized that all that came back again. I feel pretty upbeat now that I can go on the bike again, do some workouts, -- even though they’re light workouts -- do something and still feel good about myself and the rest of the day."

Hecht is in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.5 million this season. While there's no guarantee the 34-year-old German will be back with the Sabres, he's got a long life to live once he decides his playing days have come to an end.

That was certainly on his mind Wednesday as he talked about how happy he was to be free of symptoms.

"Even the long-term effects 20 years from now, it makes it a lot better that I don’t have scrambled eggs and I’ll still be able to spend time with the kids and do all that fun stuff," he said.

The audio from Hecht's interview is below.

Jochen Hecht

---Jay Skurski

http://twitter.com/jayskurski

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Live from the FNC: Sabres vs.. Devils

Have you found Sabres games online?

For a Mixed Media column I am working on for The News, I have a question: Have any Sabres fans found anywhere to watch (slightly illegal) TV feeds of the games online?

I would love to hear about them, either here in the comments or via email to gconnors (at) buffnews.com. All replies kept confidential, unless you state otherwise. Thanks.

---Greg Connors

Ruff, Gragnani set to return for Sabres; Ehrhoff likely out with illness

Lindy Ruff has had enough of the press box. The Sabres' coach has decided it's time to return to the bench.

Ruff, still nursing three broken ribs, will nonetheless be rinkside tonight when the Sabres host New Jersey in First Niagara Center. Ruff has spent the past three games upstairs in the coaching booth, but that's not the life for him.

"I wasn’t exactly enjoying myself upstairs, I can tell you that," Ruff said after today's morning skate. "You miss the intensity of the game. Sitting up there is fine, but there’s a lot of things you miss out on and you don’t get a real good feel. I’m excited to get back."

The coach is still moving slowly, so he'll wear protection on his midsection. He'll also keep assistant coaches James Patrick and Teppo Numminen near him on the bench.

"It is a flak jacket-type of design that will protect me if I do get hit," Ruff said. "I’m going to have to be careful. I won’t be jumping up on top of the bench. I’ve got to stay away from some quick movements. Even yelling, I’ve had some issues when I’ve even tried to cough. The tough part is maybe just to stay calm when otherwise you’d get pretty excited."

The most excited player in Buffalo's dressing room was likely Marc-Andre Gragnani. The defenseman, who has been a healthy scratch since the last meeting with the Devils seven games ago, is expected to play in place of Christian Ehrhoff.

Ehrhoff missed today's session because of illness and is visiting with doctors.

"It’s been hard for me," said Gragnani, who has a goal and 11 assists in 43 games. "I’ve worked hard and tried to stay positive, especially in front of the guys. You don’t want to be that guy that brings everyone down, so I try to bring a smile every day to the rink. I think that’s what I did. I’m pretty excited to be back."

Gragnani will return to his spot on the top power-play unit.

"He understands that some of the battle wasn’t there when he was playing," Ruff said. "We feel that with a bigger effort he can easily fill in and be a reliable defenseman for us."

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Marc-Andre Gragnani

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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 | [email protected]

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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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