March 31, 2012 - 5:29 PM
TORONTO -- Just when the Buffalo Sabres spent weeks trying to get finally healthy, along come the injuries again at the worst possible time.
The Sabres will be down three defensemen tonight in the Air Canada Centre as coach Lindy Ruff just announced Tyler Myers will be out with a foot injury suffered when he blocked a shot by Pittsburgh's Paul Martin with about 13 1/2 minutes left Friday night. Ruff wouldn't say much about Myers' status other than to say he was day to day. Myers played 22:12 in the game, including six shifts after taking the shot. Sounds clearly like a case of the foot swelling up once the skate comes off.
Christian Ehrhoff went down Tuesday in Washington with a knee injury, and both Myers and Mike Weber went down last night. Weber took a hard hit into the boards from Matt Cooke early in the second period and Ruff ruled him out last night.
Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan are both up from Rochester to join Jordan Leopold, Alex Sulzer, Robyn Regher and Andrej Sekera on the blueline. Brennan has played eight games this year and McNabb has played 21.
"You've got to live off your experiences here," Ruff said. We've had some real good play out of Brayden, some real good play out of T.J. It's just handling the extra minutes and where we put them that's sometimes been a problem. We're going to try to get them some good ice time and see how the other pairs make out."
Ruff said he expects his forwards to pick up the slack and create more offensive pressure on the Leafs tonight to relief some of the heat on his thin D.
As for the Leafs, they'll have rookie Ben Scrivens in goal. He beat the Rochester Amerks last night in overtime, 5-4, by making 33 saves. The Leafs' 0-8-3 skid at home has Ruff concerned.
"I look at it that they would like nothing better than to win this game tonight," Ruff said. "It'll happen sooner or later. It's going to be a dangerous team. It'll be a team that can just flat-out go for it. They can sense we've got a couple of injuries and I feel this is a game where we're going to have to be real good."
Derek Roy, who missed some shifts last night with migraines, is OK and will play.
March 31, 2012 - 11:44 AM
No morning skate for the Sabres today in Toronto. We'll be chatting with Lindy Ruff in the 5 p.m. range and will have an update here. After Friday's 5-3 loss to the Penguins, the Sabres remain tied with Washington with 86 points and four games left.
Tonight's game in the Air Canada Centre is no gimme, even if the Leafs are 5-17-3 in their last 23 and on a franchise-record 11-game skid at home. Still, the Leafs are getting shredded by bag-wearing fans and media, who continue to mock their lack of "truculence" -- Brian Burke's catch-phrase upon his hiring.
Veteran Toronto reporter Howard Berger makes sense when he says the Leafs have to show something tonight. It really does seem inconceiveable that an NHL team can be on as complete a shutdown mode as this.
The Sabres must get four points in these two meetings. Period. Especially since tonight's goalie will be one of two untested rookies: Ben Scrivens or Jussi Rynnas.
So going around the race in the East, we see:
---The Capitals host Montreal tonight at 7 and there's this breaking news from their morning skate -- Nicklas Backstrom will be back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion Jan. 3 and will be at his old spot centering for Alex Ovechkin.
---The Senators play a 1 p.m. game in Philadelphia. An Ottawa loss in regulation coupled with wins by the Sabres and Caps would leave all three teams tied at 88 points (although Ottawa would still have a game in hand).
---The Sabres and Caps can't forget about catching Florida, which has 90 points through its 78 games. The Panthers got just one point the last two days in Minnesota and Columbus, including a dreary 4-1 loss to the Jackets Friday. They are idle tonight then have a toughie Sunday in Detroit before hosting Winnipeg Tuesday and traveling to DC for a showdown on Thursday.
The Panthers lead the NHL with 16 OT/SO losses and are actually 37-41 when you add up their losses. As George Richards notes in today's Miami Herald, the Panthers have lost to Carolina, Edmonton, the Islanders, Minnesota and the Blue Jackets -- all since March 20! Too bad the Sabres didn't pull out that shootout point in their trip to Sunrise two weeks ago.
Florida is one of the worst potential division champs/No. 3 seeds ever. Caps could catch them for third and Sabres could actually pass Florida for eighth. Still possible. Buffalo could have the tiebreaker edge too. Right now, both teams have 31 ROWs and went 2-1-1 against each other in the season series. The next tiebreaker is goal differential and the Sabres are minus-8 while the Panthers are minus-23.
Hmmm. Maybe the Panthers are the group the Sabres would be most likely to finish in front of.
March 30, 2012 - 11:46 AM
The Sabres have not met Sidney Crosby since Dec. 11, 2010 -- the night Pittsburgh native Mike Weber got physical with him (right) -- and that will finally change tonight with the Penguins in town. Crosby hasn't played in the first three meetings this season and missed the final two last year because of the concussion issues that have plagued him since the 2011 Winter Classic against Washington.
Crosby has 10 goals, 15 assists and 25 points in 20 career games against the Sabres and has a 12-game point streak against Buffalo (6-10-16). The last time he didn't register a point against the Sabres was in a 4-1 Buffalo victory at Mellon Arena on April 3, 2007.
Crosby has 13 points (2-11-13) in nine games since making his second return to the lineup this season March 15 in Madison Square Garden. Overall for the season, he has 25 points in 17 games (4-21-25) and a plus-13 rating.
"To see the best player in the world come back and to be able to compete against him is a great challenge," Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold, a former Crosby teammate, told me today. "I think it's a lot of fun. I've chatted via text a few times with him to see how he was doing and it's great to see him back."
"He's the best player in the league. He's entertaining and a good model for the league," Sabres center Tyler Ennis said. "Everybody knows how hard he works and how committed he is. I don't think anyone was really surprised that he came back and picked right up."
There's no 1-2 punch in hockey like Crosby and likely Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin (47-53-100).
"They're both tremendous players, highly skilled on the rush," coach Lindy Ruff said today. "One can come with more power. In Crosby's case, it's forehand, backhand, beat you one-on-one. Malkin can do the same. We know they're both world-class. we know that we're going ot have to pay special attention. At the same time, we want that team to worry about how we're playing too."
Looks like the Sabres will be facing backup Brent Johnson in goal as Marc-Andre Fleury, who lost last night on Long Island and has already played 64 games this season, took the Pens' optional morning skate with the team's healthy scratches. (The big names like Crosby were not here)
Johnson has been out with an undisclosed injury since getting pulled against the Sabres on Feb. 19. He has terrible career numbers against Buffalo (6-5-0, 3.76, .867) and has been brutal against everyone this year (3-7-2, 3.17, .882), but the Penguins likely need to save Fleury for Sunday afternoon's fourth-place showdown against Philadelphia.
Washington is idle tonight. The Sabres will make up their game in hand and need at least one point to maintain their hold on eighth place. Ruff's meeting with the media this morning is below.
Buffalo News file photo: Weber and Crosby/Mark Mulville
March 30, 2012 - 8:54 AM
If the Sabres want to extend their three-day stay in an Eastern Conference playoff spot, they have to get at least one point tonight. Otherwise, they'll hand their postseason destiny back to the Washington Capitals (and Ottawa Senators).
The Capitals and Sabres are again tied in points after Washington's 3-2 shootout victory over Boston on Thursday. The Sabres have eighth place at the moment based on one fewer game played, but a regulation loss to Pittsburgh tonight in First Niagara Center would drop Buffalo into ninth. Washington owns the tiebreaker of regulation and overtime wins (and almost assuredly will own it through the remainder of the season).
"Everything is extremely important, and it’s really playoff hockey right now," Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said. "Teams are ramped up and playing extremely solid. We’ve just got to keep playing the way we’ve been playing."
A victory by Buffalo would again put the Sabres two points ahead of Washington, while an overtime or shootout loss would move the Sabres one point up. A victory would give the Sabres the same number of points as seventh-place Ottawa. The idle Senators, though, would maintain the seventh spot based on both fewer games played (one) and regulation and overtime victories.
"I think the key is you have to keep looking up. Don't look down," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said Thursday on the "NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman" radio show. "What that means for us is, well, there's Ottawa two points in front of us, we've played even games, let's see if we can chase Ottawa in these remaining games. … To look down and try to hold on to something is probably not the right mind-set to take."
March 29, 2012 - 5:43 PM
The Sabres have signed one of the top collegiate scorers in the nation, agreeing to a one-year, entry-level deal with Brian Flynn worth $925,000. The center was captain of the University of Maine.
Flynn ranked ninth in the NCAA this season with 48 points in 40 games. He had 18 goals and 30 assists, many of the helpers going to college scoring leader and Hobey Baker Award candidate Spencer Abbott.
The 23-year-old Flynn has reported to the Rochester Americans and will complete this season on an amateur tryout contract. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Massachusetts native is expected to play Friday against the Toronto Marlies.
March 29, 2012 - 12:54 PM
The Sabres took it easy today with an optional skate, with only a handful of skaters and one goalie (Jhonas Enroth) taking the ice in First Niagara Center. The Sabres host Pittsburgh on Friday and visit Toronto on Saturday, so the plan was to rest up for the weekend.
"With back-to-back games coming up, we wanted to make sure we went light and save everything for the game," coach Lindy Ruff said.
Center Derek Roy, who skipped Wednesday's practice with flu-like symptoms, returned today and should be ready for Friday. He's looking forward to the meeting with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the surging Penguins.
"It’s a good test for us," Roy said. "It’s fun. These are the games you play for."
Left wing Nathan Gerbe said he's still in wait-and-see mode as to whether he's ready to return from his upper-body muscle strain.
"He’s kind of stuck in that 80-90 percent but hasn’t got over the hump yet," Ruff said. "We’re hoping that one of these days it just clicks in."
March 28, 2012 - 4:57 PM
The Sabres have accomplished their most immediate goal. They control their own destiny for a playoff spot. Thanks to Tuesday's convincing victory over Washington, Buffalo has to merely match the Capitals down the stretch.
"Last game was a big statement game for us, but in saying that we don’t want to focus on it too much," defenseman Tyler Myers said today of the 5-1 win. "We want to look ahead and make sure we win our next five."
Of the four teams with the best chance at the final three playoff spots – Southeast Division-leading Florida (89 points), seventh-place Ottawa (88), Buffalo (86) and Washington (84), which also plays in the Southeast – the Sabres have the hardest remaining schedule.
Buffalo hosts Pittsburgh on Friday, plays Toronto twice and closes with Philadelphia and Boston. Those teams have a points percentage of .575. Washington’s challengers are at .570, Ottawa’s opponents are at .567 while Florida’s foes are at .505.
"We’re going to go into some tough rinks, and we’ve got some great teams to play against," forward Cody McCormick said. "It’s about doing what we’ve been doing and taking it forward."
March 28, 2012 - 1:33 PM
Just a few days ago, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff credited a return to health along the blue line as one of the keys to the team's turnaround. Today, he confirmed one defenseman is back out.
Christian Ehrhoff, who suffered a left knee injury during Tuesday's 5-1 victory over Washington, was re-evaluated today. Ruff said the news was better than he'd hoped, but the blue-liner will miss games.
"He’ll miss some time," said Ruff, who declined to elaborate whether it was day-to-day or week-to-week. "It’ll be a period of time."
The Sabres have gone 19-5-5 since Ehrhoff and fellow blue-liner Robyn Regehr returned from injury against New Jersey on Jan. 24.
"Dealing maybe with one injury is better than what we’ve had to deal with in the past," Ruff said. "We’ve got Mike Weber who can step in, and Mike played well the two previous games before sitting out, and we’re going to need him to step in and play well again.
"Christian has been logging a lot of minutes and been playing well for us, but every team has to deal with it. We have to deal with it. We have to face a little bit of adversity, and we need players to step up, and I thought last night we did. Some guys played some big minutes and played well for us."
The Sabres also practiced in First Niagara Center without defenseman Andrej Sekera and center Derek Roy. Terming Sekera's absence as a "maintenance day," Ruff said the defenseman will play "for sure" at home against Pittsburgh on Friday.
"Derek wasn’t feeling well," Ruff said of Roy. "He may have a touch of the flu."
March 27, 2012 - 11:46 PM
WASHINGTON -- There was no real celebration in the Sabres' locker room after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Washington. It was just another game. They were on a completely even keel, knowing there are still five games left and their lead is only two points.
But this team has shown incredible resolve in going 19-5-5 in the last 29 games. Their words plainly show their focus on the task.
Click below to hear from the players and coach Lindy Ruff, whose interview was marred by arena workers folding up seats above our heads.
March 27, 2012 - 3:30 PM
WASHINGTON -- Want a key nuance to watch for tonight? Follow the faceoffs. The Sabres have been surprisingly good lately, even without Paul Gaustad. They've had the edge in faceoff victories in seven of their last eight games, and gone 6-0-2 in that stretch.
Their special teams are humming the last five games with the power play at 6 for 18 and the penalty kill at 9 for 10. In the last 15 games, Buffalo has killed 31 of 33 penalties. A lot of that obviously is goaltending but winning draws and getting control is key too.
"We've gone up against some tough faceoff teams and garnered the edge," coach Lindy Ruff said today. "It's a big part of the game. When you're not chasing the puck around all night, when you can start with it after a faceoff, it gives you an opportunity to get it down ice. It gives you an opportunity in the offensive zone for some offense.
"It's a part of the game sometimes that people overlook. I look at it that if you get the edge on the faceoff circle, you've got the edge of puck possession."
In Saturday's win over Minnesota, Derek Roy went 16-9 on draws -- winning a couple key ones down the stretch in the Buffalo zone -- and Cody Hodgson went 12-6 as the Sabres had a 36-26 edge. Roy is 87-69 the last eight games.
"[Gaustad] was a great faceoff guy. I had to step up my faceoffs," Roy said. "Late in games, those are huge. If you can ice the puck right away on a penalty kill, it gets a good 15-20 seconds."
For the season, the Sabres are 19th in the league on faceoffs -- but did the job against No. 4 Colorado and No. 6 Minnesota in recent games. The Capitals rank 17th.
Roy has improved to 50.6 percent for the season. The key to watch for Washington is Jeff Halpern, who is fourth at 58.3 percent.
March 27, 2012 - 1:02 PM
WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin has been the talk of the town in recent days and he was pretty much the talk of the Buffalo Sabres' locker room today after their pregame skate prior to tonight's showdown against the Capitals.
Ovechkin will be looking to score in six straight games for the first time since the 2008-09 season and he figures to get double-shifted as the Capitals are again dressing seven defensemen. With that setup Sunday against Minnesota, Ovechkin played an eye-popping 26:19, his second-highest total of the season.
The Sabres want to match up the Ville Leino-Derek Roy-Jason Pominville line against the Great Eight but Caps coach Dale Hunter will have the last change. And besides, it's going to be a group effort anyway.
"Tonight we're going to need two lines," said coach Lindy Ruff. "They've got Ovechkin playing on two different lines, double-shifting him. He's playing 25+ minutes. All of our lines are going to have to be responsible. [The Roy line] is going to have to do a good job. Our defense pair that's out there against them too. We know what he's capable of doing. If you give him space and time, give him anything on the rush, he's a dangerous player."
"We know they like to throw it down his wing and he likes to skate the puck up the ice, get a shot from the middle," Roy said. "Mostly, we have to keep him to the outside and always be aware of where he is because he always seems to find open spots. He likes to push the pace in his own zone a lot of times and read the play. When they get the puck in the defensive zone, you always have to watch out
because he might be taking off."
The Sabres are getting Patrick Kaleta back and he'll play with his broken thumb (that he jokingly referred to as a sore foot). Travis Turnbull has been sent back to Rochester.
"It's exciting," Kaleta said. "I honestly don't really like sitting out and watching my teammates. I take it pretty hard and do everything in my power to be able to be ready and prepare myself to play and it should be a fun game tonight."
After a couple weeks of fans and media pointing to this game and the players having to stay with their tunnel vision on the next game, there was a good vibe in the locker room that the big one was finally here.
"It's good to be here. Obviously, we've heard a lot about it," said captain Jason Pominville. "We've talked a lot about it and to finally be here and see what's at stake is a pretty huge opportunity for us. We have to make sure we take advantage of it."
Click below to hear audio from Ruff and the players today.
March 27, 2012 - 11:30 AM
WASHINGTON -- We'll get confirmation when the Sabres' morning skate is over but Patrick Kaleta appears like he is in the lineup tonight, as he is skating on a line with Cody McCormick and Brad Boyes. Nathan Gerbe remains skating with the extras.
This just in from the Sabres as well: The April 7 game at Boston will not air on NBC, so it has been moved from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and has been added to the MSG schedule.
March 27, 2012 - 10:56 AM
WASHINGTON -- The Sabres have an 11 a.m. optional skate today in the Verizon Center and we'll bring you the latest when it starts. The Capitals are skating this morning at their practice facility in Arlington, Va., so they won't be here downtown. We'll find out if there's any big news out of their workout.
Key update from Arlington: Braden Holtby confirmed he'll be tonight's goalie for the Caps
The Sabres have returned Travis Turnbull to Rochester, so that means either Nathan Gerbe or Patrick Kaleta (or both) will be in the lineup tonight. We'll see who Lindy Ruff is calling on.
The Sabres know tonight is a huge game but there's still five left after it. Look for the Derek Roy line to get the bulk of the work against Alex Ovechkin, who has goals in his last five games. Ovechkin hasn't scored in six straight since the 2008-09 season.
Here's today's Washington Post story on Ovechkin's resurgence.
More in a bit.
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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.
About Sabres Edge
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.
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.
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