The Sabres' morning skate is under way in First Niagara Center and it's gone as the team advertised it would yesterday: Lindy Ruff is not on the ice but Thomas Vanek is.
Aptly dubbed "the team's broken-ribbed coach" in this morning's article by John Vogl, Ruff is not skating. But remember, that's not unusual for game-day skates. We'll have to get an update on what his status is for tonight when the team is finished.
Vanek is taking his first skate with the team since suffering his upper-body injury Jan. 31 in Montreal. Darcy Regier said yesterday Vanek would not play tonight but it seems like the team is hoping he could play either Friday against Dallas or Saturday against Tampa Bay.
Are the Sabres' too serious for their own good? Ville Leino thinks so.
The forward, in his first year with Buffalo, said Tuesday the team is finally having fun. It is also playing well. Those two go hand-in-hand, he says.
"Overall, guys are having a lot more fun out there," Leino said. "Sometimes it seems like, especially around here, I've noticed it gets a little serious. You forget to have fun, and you forget all those things you play hockey for. You get a lot more out of yourself if you're enjoying what you do."
The Sabres have held a lot of optional practices this season, and assistant coach James Patrick has run nearly every one of them, if not all. So when Lindy Ruff missed today's full practice because of broken ribs, Patrick felt right at home taking over for the head coach.
"Obviously, he wasn’t on the ice and we missed having him here, but it wasn’t too different outside of that," said Patrick, in his sixth season as Ruff's assistant.
General Manager Darcy Regier said Ruff is day-to-day and may be back for Wednesday's game against Boston. Patrick fully expects it. Ruff hasn't missed a game since March 20, 2006, a 5-0 loss in Atlanta while he was attending to a medical matter regarding his daughter, Madeleine.
"I’m hoping and expecting to see him here tomorrow," Patrick said. "I don’t know if it’ll be in the morning or later on.
"We’re going to prepare the team like normal. It’s going to be the same routine. We’re going to meet with Lindy today and go over preparation for tomorrow. We’re going to do everything we can to get ready to win a game tomorrow. That’s our focus. If he isn’t behind the bench, we’re confident we can handle it."
The Sabres will host the Bruins without Thomas Vanek. The team's leading scorer, out with an upper-body injury, skated on his own but won't be back until the weekend, at the earliest.
"It’s a huge game. That’s our focus," Patrick said. "It’s a game that we’ve got to get ready to win. We’ve got to do all we can to prepare. They’ve been probably the toughest or the best team in the East, them and the Rangers all year.
"We feel we competed with the Rangers and we had chances to win that game. We beat New Jersey in a shootout a week ago, probably the other team that’s been as hot as any team over the last month, and we know Boston is going to be a big challenge, but we feel we can beat any team in league."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who broke his ribs during an on-ice practice fall Monday, was not healthy enough to return to First Niagara Center today. General Manager Darcy Regier said the coach is "day-to-day" and may return for Wednesday's home game against Boston.
"I did speak with him this morning," Regier said. "He is in a lot of pain. He said he got about four hours sleep last night. He was, when I came in this morning, on a conference call with the coaches going over practice."
Assistant coach James Patrick has taken over the daily duties from Ruff.
If Ruff does return for the game against Boston, it's possible he could coach from upstairs. Assistant Teppo Numminen, who is normally up in the press box and communicates with a headset, would likely come down to the bench.
"We’ll see how he feels in the morning," Regier said, "and he’ll make a determination from there."
Trainers quickly attended to Sabres coach Lindy Ruff after he went down to the ice. (Mark Mulville / Buffalo News)
Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff left practice early today in First Niagara Center after taking a scary fall in the wake of a collision with defenseman Jordan Leopold. 4:15 UPDATE: The Sabres have tweeted that Ruff suffered three broken ribs but will be at practice Tuesday.
Leopold was working in a 1-on-1 drill with Ville Leino and lost his balance, sliding to the ice and barreling into Ruff from behind. Ruff went airbone and landed hard on the ice, letting out a scream as his body crumpled that echoed through the empty arena.
(News photographer Mark Mulville took video of Ruff being tended to on the ice and it is posted below.)
First Win: Nov. 22, 2002, vs. Columbus (5-4) First Shutout: Jan. 14, 2003, at Minnesota (1-0) 100th Win: Feb. 10, 2008 vs. Florida (5-3) 200th Win: Dec. 28, 2010 at Edmonton (4-2) 234th Win: Jan. 31, 2012 at New Jersey (2-1/shootout) 235th Win: Feb. 4, 2012 at NY Islanders (4-3/shootout) Career Record: 235-141-44-1 (W-L-OTL-T) Only Tie: Jan. 16, 2003 at San Jose (2-2) Most Saves: 48, Jan. 8, 2010, in 3-2 win over Toronto. Career shutouts: 24 Shootout record: 33-21
UNIONDALE -- Ryan Miller had a pretty big smile in the Sabres' locker room after Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders, and he had a puck marked 235 with him after setting the franchise record for victories by a goaltender.
Hear Miller's thoughts below on the record, the big comeback win and the overtime penalty kill that made it all possible.
---Mike Harrington (www.twitter.com/bnharrington)
(For those asking, I made it out of the Nassau Coliseum unscathed this time. Red light showed open door at Gate 5 and concourse was filled with workers. Told you last year they were all Jets fans. Not a soul).
UNIONDALE -- Want to see the Sabres find more offense? Look to the power play. That's where teams pad their stats and where the Sabres are really failing.
The Sabres were 0 for 6 in Wednesday's shootout loss to the Rangers and are 0 for 10 in the last three games. They're 1 for 15 in the last five -- and just 3 for 33 in the last 13.
The Sabres are 17th in the NHL entering tonight at 17.1 percent but just 24th on the road at 13.6 percent and have only nine power-play tallies away from First Niagara Center all season.
Coach Lindy Ruff said today that there's a lot of minor problems adding up to bigger onces, aside from the biggest one of no one finishing plays. It will certainly help if some point shots get through and end up on net as well.
"It's just a bunch of little stuff, from retrievals ... and the retrieval part after the initial shot, whether you get it back after the initial shot and get the second opportunity,' Ruff said. "We've had some good looks and I don't think we've had enough. It starts on the retrievals. And it's gotten a little bit stagnant where they're standing around too much. It's a pass from point A to point B and nobody's moving. We've worked the last two days of getting the motion back in the game."
And without Thomas Vanek, who's going to stand in front of the net and try to cause some chaos? At today's morning skate, Drew Stafford had that role on the No. 1 unit and Luke Adam had it on the second group.
"Quick puck movement and the intensity to get pucks back when we lose them are big things," said Tyler Myers, who is working the point with Christian Ehrhoff on the No. 1 unit. "We've addressed those things the last few days. We've done some good things out there but we still need to be better. Quick puck movement is one of the biggest things. We do that, we can break teams' penalty kills down a little bit and get some more pucks to the net."
UNIONDALE -- The Sabres face a red-hot team tonight in the New York Islanders but for once, Buffalo was the team sitting in a city waiting for their opponent to show up. The Islanders posted a 2-1 overtime win last night in Ottawa but between the long ride to the airport there and customs and the flight home, they probably weren't in their beds until the 2 a.m. range.
One school of thought after today's pregame skate is a quick jump on the Islanders is rarely as important as it will be tonight.
"It's important if we get the puck down low below the goal line and really spend the majority of the first period there, or at least the first 10 minutes maybe," said coach Lindy Ruff. "Sometimes a team gets a little bit stuck in back-to-back games."
The Islanders (21-22-7) will be gunning to get to .500 tonight while the Sabres can move ahead of them with a regulation win. Buffalo can be anywhere from 11th to 15th in the East after tonight's play.
The Islanders are 6-1 in their last seven against the Sabres. They're 5-1-1 in their last seven overall this season and 10-5-1 in the last 16. And their top line of John Tavares centering Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo has been one of the hottest in the league.
Tavares was named the NHL's First Star for January after leading the league with 22 points in the month. In his last 16 games, he has 11 goals and 15 assists.
"They play very well together," said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. "Tavares has proven he's a pretty special player in this league. Especially as of late, he's been unbelievable for them."
"They're a tough line to control and Tavares is becoming one of the premier younger players in the league,'" Ruff said. "His stats are really going up (53 points in 50 games), his skating has been excellent and they've got some good chemistry."
Ryan Miller will start in goal. Ruff said the Sabres will dress all the forwards for the warmup, although Zack Kassian was the extra this morning and would be the best bet to join Marc-Andre Gragnani as a scratch.
So what was the news from Sabres' practice today? For once, there really wasn't any.
The only people missing were the ones with long-term injuries that no one expected to see (Thomas Vanek and the concussion duo of Jochen Hecht and T.J. Brennan). Everyone else was skating, healthy and ready to head to Long Island this afternoon to play the Islanders on Saturday.
"We got them all back," coach Lindy Ruff said.
Center Tyler Ennnis returned after missing Thursday with the flu, while right wing Drew Stafford made it through his second straight day after missing Wednesday's game against the Rangers with an illness.
Call-up Zack Kassian remained with the team and is expected to make the trip.
"Right now the plan would be to take him with," Ruff said. "You never know what's going to pop with us."
That was the first of two one-liners issued by the coach. The other came at the end when someone asked if he watched the four-goal, eight-point show put on Thursday night by Edmonton's Sam Gagner.
"No, too much offense for me," Ruff said with a smile.
What isn't funny, though, is Gagner's one night alone would put him eighth on the Sabres in scoring. The four goals would tie him with Ville Leino, Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Myers, Hecht and Patrick Kaleta. Gagner would vault ahead of Brad Boyes and Ennis.
To hear Ruff's news conference, click the file below.
The Buffalo Sabres, after getting shut out for the second time in seven games Wednesday, rank 27th in the NHL in scoring. There's no excuse for that, center Derek Roy said today.
"We lost a lot of guys down the road, but that’s no excuse for the other guys not scoring," said Roy, who never figured the Sabres would be dwelling near the bottom at 2.33 goals per game. "No, not at the start of the year looking at our team and seeing in training camp how it went and starting off the season well."
Roy is among the Sabres who are struggling to find the net with one goal in 15 games. Brad Boyes has one in 29. Luke Adam has one in 24. Nathan Gerbe has one in 14. Drew Stafford, who returned to practice in First Niagara Center after missing the loss to the Rangers with an illness, has just two goals in 19 outings.
"We’re working on it in practice, trying to score goals and instill drills where we can work at it," said Roy, who wants to remain in Buffalo despite being part of trade rumors. "Everybody’s got to help each other out and keep making plays and keep having confidence."
Forward Tyler Ennis missed practice with the flu but is likely to return by Saturday when the Sabres visit the New York Islanders. Rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb has been cleared to return from a concussion and was sent back to the Rochester Amerks.
"He was cleared and we’ll go get him playing again," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He needs to play. He needs to play big minutes. The six that have played since [Christian] Ehrhoff and [Robyn] Regehr stepped back in the lineup, the ice times have gone back to more where guys are comfortable playing at, in their range. Those six guys have played well together, so in Brayden’s case he hasn’t played now in a long time, and he needs to go play some good minutes and get back into game shape."
The Sabres tried to put the Paul Gaustad trash-talking story to bed today in advance of tonight's game against the New York Rangers, with Gaustad contradicting Montreal media accounts of the game by saying Max Pacioretty actually started the gabfest after Patrick Kaleta's empty-net goal.
(Be sure to go back to my earlier post from today to see what the whole thing is about and video from the Canadiens' postgame interviews.)
What had been reported was that Gaustad said, "Where's Chara?" at Pacioretty, a reference to the vicious, neck-breaking hit Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara dropped on the Montreal forward last season. The Canadiens then responded by asking Gaustad something along the lines of "Where's Lucic", a reference to Gaustad not jumping in when Ryan Miller got bowled over in Boston in November.
Gaustad said today his diss was in response to Pacioretty's initial chirp.
"I'm just going to address it for the last time today," Gaustad said. "It's something where Pacioretty said something to me, I said something back along the same lines and the guy that kind of brought it up in the media [Montreal's Mathieu Darche] wasn't even involved with it. For Darche to bring it up in the media, in my opinion is stuff on the ice stays on the ice. I don't want to blow it out of proportion. You have to have thick skin in the NHL. I'm fine with it. Just move on."
The Sabres are understandably unhappy Montreal players kept the chirping going to their beat writers after losing to Buffalo at home for the third time this season.
"I could give you one situation every night [where there is trash-talking]," said coach Lindy Ruff. "For them to go public that I thought was ridiculous on their part. They were looking for something to talk about or feel good about after that game and they're barking up the wrong tree if you ask me."
Gaustad plays with noted gabber Patrick Kaleta and joked this morning they feel bad for linemate Brad Boyes having to deal with some of the brushfires those two cause on the ice.
"Trash talking is a part of the game. It gets guys off their game," Gaustad said. "You just have to be careful of not letting guys get under your skin. It's a passionate game. They played hard, we played hard. I thought it was a fun game last night."
As for tonight's game, Ruff said Thomas Vanek will undergo more evaluation this afternoon. Another forward whom Ruff didn't name is sick and Zack Kassian was seen in the building and seems likely to play tonight. Ruff would not commit to putting Luke Adam back in the lineup.
Hear Gaustad's interview and a quick clip from Ruff below, with Ruff's initial comments pertaining to his thoughts on the high-flying Rangers.
The Montreal Canadiens are chafed that Sabres center Paul Gaustad allegedly said, "Where's Chara?" in the direction of Max Pacioretty following Patrick Kaleta's empty-net goal late in the third period of Tuesday's 3-1 Buffalo victory. The quip, of course, is in reference to the ghoulish hit Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara put on Pacioretty last season that resulted in a broken neck.
"He's got a big mouth and he likes to run it," Habs goalie Carey Price said of Gaustad. "What can you do? Can't worry about what he's got to say. He doesn't do much out there."
For one night, at least, Gaustad did as he put together his first three-point game since December 9, 2010. Will be interesting to see what kind of response Gaustad has this morning prior to the Sabres' game against the Rangers. Some Montreal players apparently asked him where he was when Ryan Miller got plowed in November by Milan Lucic. Fair comeback.
The Chara-Pacioreetty play is seen below, followed by clips from the Habs' locker room Tuesday from Price (who starts in on Gaustad at the :55 mark) and winger Matthew Darche. Those clips are from the Montreal Gazette.
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.