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.
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.
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 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.
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."
Lindy Ruff would like to get back on the bench Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils but the Sabres' coach still has some limitiations so he could be slumming it again in the press box.
Ruff, who is probably weeks away from being on the ice at practice again, watched today's workout in First Niagara Center from the bench wearing a Sabres hoodie and he's feeling better. Assistant James Patrick continued to run the team.
"Even if I do go back tomorrow, I'm going to need help beacause there's situations there where I can't vocalize loud enough, especially with the crowd, and react quick enough to have people ready," Ruff said. "So if I do go back there, I'll have James sort of in the same role."
In addition to being able to yell when needed, Ruff still can't move quickly if a stray puck comes into the bench. He said four of them did during Saturday's game against Tampa Bay and assistant coach Teppo Numminen took a glancing blow from one.
"I'd like to laugh about it but I don't want to because I don't want to get hit at the same time," Ruff said. "If I hung out by the tunnel, there's a good chance I get hit. If I stay in the same spot I normally do, I won't. I don't think we can change too much."
Cody McCormick and Jochen Hecht missed practice, with McCormick still on the day-to-day list and Hecht still hoping to play this season after having a procedure done last week on his neck.
Click below to hear from Ruff on his status, the injuries, the work of Patrick Kaleta and more. And be sure to join me here for another On The Beat Chat today at 3.
The Sabres have pulled the trigger on what's probably an overdue move by sending struggling rookie Luke Adam down to Rochester and calling up Zack Kassian. Adam, last year's AHL Rookie of the Year at Portland, did not have a point in his last 20 games here while Kassian has 15 goals and 11 assists in 30 games with the Amerks; he had two goals last night in Rochester's 9-4 rout of Texas.
"Right now [Adam's] confidence level is low," coach Lindy Ruff said today. "He needs to go play a lot of minutes, he needs to get back on the scoresheet. And I don't think this is unlike a lot of young players. It's been a tough stretch for him. Zack has been going well down there, he's been scoring. We'll bring him in, put him in the lineup."
Ruff said Adam could have a short stint in Rochester.
"Luke will make that decision himself," Ruff said. "He goes there and plays well, it's temporary. But he needs to go and put points up and play really well."
Kassian will go into the lineup tonight against Tampa Bay because Cody McCormick is nursing an upper-body injury suffered last night against Dallas and will sit. Ruff said McCormick's injury is not serious and he's day to day.
The coach, meanwhile, said he's feeling better and is a "game-night decision" as far as returning behind the bench. The coach suffered three broken ribs in a practice collision Monday and has spent the last two games upstairs in the press box while James Patrick has run the club.
The Sabres are 5-0-1 in their last six games while the Lightning are 6-1-2 in their last nine and two points behind Buffalo in the Eastern Conference standings. Tampa center Steven Stamkos leads the NHL with 36 goals.
Red-hot Ryan Miller (1.11 GAA, .962 save percentage) is expected to stay in net for Buffalo while Mathieu Garon has made seven straight starts for Tampa.
Thomas Vanek will be back in the Sabres' lineup tonight against the Dallas Stars after missing three games with an upper-body injury. Paul Gaustad, who sat out yesterday for maintenance, will also play. So that means Jochen Hecht is the only regular on the sidelines.
"[Vanek] has had a history of coming off stretches where he's been hurt, he's come back and he's gone pretty good," said coach Lindy Ruff. "We're hoping he can take off now that he's had a few games off."
Ruff said he can't see changing the lines from Wednesday's 6-0 win over Boston, so that means Ville Leino will stay with Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. Vanek likely displaces Nathan Gerbe and goes in with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford rather than rejoining Pominville, which had been one of the NHL's top 1-2 combos for the season's first three months.
"I took the [all-star] break, really came back refreshed and then in the first period [Jan. 31] in Montreal, I created chances and had a good chance myself," Vanek said. "Then the injury happened. I can create some stuff on my own ... and make my teammates better. That's my goal every game. It doesn't matter who you play with. You want to elevate their game and i want to elevate my game. So it's a good opportunity."
Luke Adam and Marc-Andre Gragnani will be the scratches. Adam has 10 goals on the season -- but not even a single point in his last 20 games. He seems closer than ever to a trip to Rochester.
"It's a thought just to get him going, get him back on the scoresheet," Ruff admitted. "He's definitely had his struggles but it isn't something we've discussed yet."
The Stars posted a 4-2 win last night in Columbus and are thus not skating this morning. Here's a stat to keep in mind that's hugely in Buffalo's favor: The Stars are 0-8-1 this season in the second game of back-to-backs.
Ryan Miller will be in goal for the Sabres against Dallas backup Richard Bachman, who joins Jhonas Enroth as the NHL's shortest goalies at 5-10. Both were drafted in 2006 (Enroth 46th and Bachman 120th).
Thomas Vanek, who has been the Sabres' top scorer since the opening weekend of the season, has been missing because of injury for only three games. It may have been long enough to lose a spot on the top line.
Vanek, who suffered an upper-body injury Jan. 31, practiced today and expects to be ready to play Friday when Dallas visits First Niagara Center.
"We’ll see how it reacts today, but that’s my goal," Vanek said. "We’ll see."
Ville Leino has stepped into Vanek's left wing spot on the first line with center Derek Roy and right wing Jason Pominville. The trio has combined for three goals and seven points in the three games, leading some to question whether Vanek would be placed elsewhere should he come back.
"Geez, life goes on," he said slowly with a smile. "The line’s been playing well. The three games I missed the team played great. For me, it’s just to try and find a spot in the lineup then work myself up again."
Vanek skated with center Brad Boyes and right wing Patrick Kaleta today, but that was mainly because Paul Gaustad missed the session for a "maintenance day." Gaustad will be back Friday.
"When he’s ready we’ll just have to evaluate it and drop him in," coach Lindy Ruff said of Vanek. "Obviously, we know he can make a big difference on the power play for us, but we want to make sure he’s ready, too.
"We put him through a battery of extra tests there after practice. We’ll see how he’s feeling in the morning. He’s the only one who really knows whether he can go or not, and if he says he’s ready to go and doesn’t have any ill effects from what happened today, he’ll be back in."
Ruff, who has three broken ribs, watched practice alone from Section 104 while assistant coach James Patrick kept the role of acting bench boss.
To hear Ruff's interview, which includes mention of an upcoming neck procedure for concussed forward Jochen Hecht, click the audio file below.
Lindy Ruff made a surprise appearance at his regular postgame news conference Wednesday nigght following the Sabres' 6-0 win over the Bruins.
"I felt better and better as the game went on," Ruff said. "By the end, I felt really good."
Ruff said he will be in the press box for the forseeable future, partly because he can't get out of the way of errant pucks and also because he can't yell, so it would be difficult to yell out lines over the crowd (and ostensibly resist the urge to yell at officials).
The first thing Boston coach Claude Julien was asked after his team's pregame skate today was how strange it would be to not see Lindy Ruff on the Sabres' bench. Tonight's game, after all, will be just the second one since 1997 with Ruff absent.
Julien admitted it would be odd and said he's had several close calls in practice as well with collisions like Ruff and with pucks to the head like the one Edmonton's Tom Renney took Monday in Toronto.
"He may pop in there, you never know," Julien said of Ruff. "But I know he's been through a pretty bad fall. You don't like to see those things. Tom gets the puck in the head and it just goes to show you there's always a risk out there.
"... It happens. That's why you've got to be ready all the time. Sometimes when you see it, you can brace yourself. When you don't, it can be a tough fall. We don't have much protection underneath that sweatsuit except for the extra weight we carry."
Julien confirmed that Tuukaa Rask, who beat the Sabres in the playoffs as a rookie in 2010, will start tonight against Ryan Miller instead of Tim Thomas. Rask is a backup goalie who hardly has backup numbers -- he's 11-6-2 and third in the NHL in both goals-against average (1.88) and save percentage (.936). But like his team, Rask has struggled of late with an 0-2-1 record, and figures of 3.26 and .884 in the last three games.
Rask is 4-3, 2.28, .931 in his career against Buffalo in the regular season. Thomas, meanwhile, is 10-9-4 against Buffalo and his stats against the Sabres (3.10, .899) are his worst in every category against teams he's played at least 10 games.
Lindy Ruff will not be behind the First Niagara Center bench tonight for the Buffalo Sabres for the first time since March 20, 2006, and James Patrick will be in charge as the Sabres meet the Boston Bruins.
Patrick will move from changing the defense pairs to changing the forward lines and Kevyn Adams, who has been on the bench all season, will change the defense. First-year assistant Teppo Numminen will move down from the press box to the bench for the first time since his playing career ended here in 2009.
Patrick said Ruff is "hoping to be here" but it's certainly up in the air if the head coach if will be in the building tonight. Patrick said he could be in the press box or could simply stay in the coaches' suite in the locker room area and watch the game on the big-screen TV.
Patrick said it a little unusual to be calling forward lines but will try to keep things business as usual.
"The helpful thing is there's a lot of veteran guys with Pommer [Jason Pominville] and Gaus [Paul Gaustad] and Derek Roy," Patrick said. "It's a pretty veteran lineup. And they communicate on the bench and I don't expect any problems.
"It is a new voice but at the same time, the game plan will be the same," Pominville said. "The systems will be the same. Not much is going to change besides the person speaking and talking to us in intermission. Our focus has to remain the same. No matter who's there, we have the trust and confidence in what they're capable of doing."
"It's the ebb and flows of hockey. You can't predict how you're going to play the game either," said defenseman Jordan Leopold, whose collision with Ruff Monday caused the coach's three broken ribs. "It's one of those things. We're plenty prepared either way. If Lindy were back there, great. If not, we'll make do and stick with our system. He's made sure everything is implemented. It's just a matter of us going out there and doing it."
Patrick had a brief on-ice meeting with the team at end of the morning skate and said his message was to continue to be hard on the puck as the club has been during its 3-0-1 run. He said his first foray as a head coach should be interesting, especially if he needs to make his case known to the referees.
"Usually Lindy has to tell me to stop yelling at the referees so I've had a lot of practice at that," Patrick said. "You get answers or get a little more respect whhen you're the head coach. Hopefully that's not an issue."
Thomas Vanek skated with the team today and Patrick said he's improving. Vanek confirmed he's hoping to play this weekend, either Friday against Dallas or Saturday against Tampa Bay.
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.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, is in his sixth season covering the Buffalo Sabres. 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.