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Live from Sabres at Tampa Bay

Sabres hopeful their slumping players will start chipping in offensively

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Sabres' lineup is littered with players missing opportunities. Coach Lindy Ruff hopes tonight's game in Tampa Bay turns into a slump buster.

Ville Leino has found the net in just one of the last 22 games. Thomas Vanek has four goals in 28 games. Patrick Kaleta has gone 19 games without a goal. Cody Hodgson doesn't have a point in his 10 games with Buffalo. Derek Roy has one goal in nine games.

The line of Tyler Ennis in the middle of left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Drew Stafford has combined for eight goals and 10 assists in the last four games. The Sabres need at least a little production from the Leino-Hodgson-Vanek and Corey Tropp-Roy-Jason Pominville trios.

"One line will get hot," Ruff said today in Tampa Bay Times Forum. "We need that secondary to pick it up for us. We’re hoping that the Roy line can kick some in, and obviously Cody’s line we hope they take advantage of some of the chances they’ve had inside of games."

Ruff has not yet lost faith in Hodgson.

"I actually thought he skated better in this last game," Ruff said. "He had a couple situations where he got in behind them. He made some good plays. He made a heck of a play to Thomas where Thomas’ slap shot in the slot was blocked. I thought he defended well, made a couple plays, good breakups defensively.

"I think in his case it’s just keep doing what he’s doing, try to create the opportunities when they’re there, try to be ready to shoot when you get the opportunity, and I told him not to put a lot of pressure on himself. I said, “I’m not looking at … we’d love to see points on the board, but you’ve got to play your position and you’ve got to take what’s out there.’"

---John Vogl

Scoreboard watching goes well for Sabres, who could tie for eighth tonight

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Sabres need help during the final three weeks of the season if they want to reach their goal of making the playoffs. They got a lot Sunday.

The eighth-place Washington Capitals and ninth-place Winnipeg Jets both lost in regulation, keeping the Sabres two points behind the Caps and tied with the Jets with 76 points. All have played 72 games. The Sabres would lose the tiebreaker to both teams.

Carolina stunned the Jets with two third-period goals, including the winner by Chad LaRose with just 1:22 to play to give the Hurricanes a 4-3 victory.

Washington lost in Chicago, 5-2. It doesn't get any easier for the Caps, who visit Detroit tonight.

The Sabres could pull even with the Capitals with a victory in Tampa tonight and a Washington loss.

"We’ve done a better job of really concentrating on ourselves here," Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "Not in a selfish way, but just realizing what we have to do and making sure that we’re working really hard at doing that. There’s nothing you can do about the out-of-town scoreboard. The only thing we can do is making sure we take care of our situation."

---John Vogl

Sabres' Hecht thrilled to skate with teammates again, has no plans to retire because of concussion

TAMPA, Fla. – Jochen Hecht is trying to recover from his third concussion in the past year. He’s approaching 35 years old. He’s finishing up a $14.1 million contract.

Retirement has crossed the minds of many – but not the Sabres’ center.

"No," Hecht said today. "I don’t feel like I’m done."

Hecht, out since suffering his latest concussion Jan. 21, is back skating with his teammates. He hopes the noncontact practice sessions will eventually turn into full-throttle games.

"It was back and forth for a while there, but I’ve been feeling pretty good for a while now," Hecht said in Tampa Bay Times Forum. "Just being on the ice with the guys kind of makes my day now. I’m pretty happy about that."

Hecht has missed 44 games, including the last 24, because of two concussions suffered this season. With only 10 games left, including Monday against Tampa Bay, it’s a long shot Hecht will be able to get physically fit before the season ends.

"We still have a long way to go, but I want to be out there," Hecht said. "Hopefully, we can make the playoffs and see what happens then.

"You never want to sit out as a player. You always want to battle and fight through injuries. I think I’ve seen this year that you’ve got to give it time, let it heal, and we’ll see what comes."

---John Vogl

Jochen Hecht

With season winding down, Sabres' Ruff sets his sights on extended run

TAMPA, Fla. -- When 20 games remained in the season, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff outlined a plan that would get Buffalo into the playoffs. He wanted the team to go 4-1 in four straight five-game stretches, which would basically amount to winning four playoff series.

Halfway through, it hasn't worked out. The Sabres went 4-1 in the first five, but they went 2-1-2 in the second five. With 10 games left, the coach has a new mind-set.

"Win 10 of them," Ruff said today Tampa Bay Times Forum. ""That’s the overriding, trying to put 10 of them together."

The first chance comes Monday when the Sabres visit the Lightning.

"I need difference makers right now," Ruff said. "I don’t need to hear about great chances or missed opportunities. Missed opportunities will put us in a bad place."

For the full audio of Ruff's chat, click the file below.

---John Vogl

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No live blog from Florida

Due to Internet connectivity issues affecting the press box at the BankAtlantic Center,  we have abandoned efforts to post a live blog from tonight's Sabres-Panthers game. We will resume live blogging Monday in Tampa Bay.

Panthers' Dineen impressed by Sabres' surge

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Sabres 9-2-3 in their last 14 games. Their former minor-league coach has noticed.

Buffalo visits the Panthers tonight, and Florida coach Kevin Dineen figures his division-leading club is in for a "growly" game.

“For me, there’s some pride there," said Dineen, who coached the Sabres' prospects in Portland. "I see Tyler Ennis and Corey Tropp having ... the games I watched, those players have played very  well lately. Their usual go-to guys are also stepping up their game, the [Drew] Stafford, [Thomas] Vanek and [Derek] Roy are playing a stiff brand of hockey, and it probably starts in goaltending where Ryan [Miller] really looks at this as a challenge and he’s been a hard guy to beat the last two weeks here.

"Obviously, they’ve done a very good job for 59 and a half minutes and they’ve had a couple of goals scored late on them, which will make for a bit of a growly team coming in."

---John Vogl

Sekera set to return for Sabres; Gerbe out

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Sabres are expecting a boost to their defensive corps tonight against Florida. Andrej Sekera is offically back after missing five games with pneumonia.

The return of Sekera, who has three goals and 13 points in 58 games, sends Brayden McNabb to the sidelines. The rookie is up on an emergency recall, so he has to sit with Sekera's return to health.

Left wing Nathan Gerbe will miss his second straight with an upper-body muscle strain. The Sabres' lines will be: Corey Tropp-Derek Roy-Jason Pominville, Marcus Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford, Ville Leino-Cody Hodgson-Thomas Vanek, and Cody McCormick-Brad Boyes-Patrick Kaleta.

Ryan Miller will start in goal against the Panthers, who will welcome forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov back to the lineup.

To hear coach Lindy Ruff's comments from the morning skate -- including his thoughts on players' moms joining the team on this trip and the smile he got from Brian Campbell's blast of Brad Marchand -- click the audio file below.

---John Vogl

Lindy Ruff

Sekera hopes he can play tomorrow

Pneumonia is one nasty bug but Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera is over it and had his first full practice today in First Niagara Center. Sekera hopes he can play tomorrow night against the Florida Panthers and the Sabres really need him to with Tyler Myers still on the shelf from his three-game suspension.

"I was short of breath. Even just to go upstairs in my house was tiring," Sekera said. "I couldn't breath very good. as time went on, it got better and better."

Sekera said he lost some weight -- "it wasn't a two-digit number but it was getting close -- but has put most of it back on. Now it's just a case of getting his conditioning back in form. Can he really play the 20-22 minutes we've become accustomed to seeing?

"I will do my best and I will see how it goes from period to period," he said. "I don't promise anything. I just want to get out,  skate well and play a hard game to help this team win."

Coach Lindy Ruff took the ice today in a Sabres jacket with a "stop" sign on the back and a "yield" sign on the sleeves. It was a joke outfit made for him by close friend and PGA golfer Dudley Hart.

"That's my on-ice jacket, just a little bit of extra protection," said Ruff,  who suffered three broken ribs in practice last month when Jordan Leopold took him out. "Guys notice the stop sign and yield so they  don't run me over."

Nathan Gerbe (upper body) is skating on his own and will make the trip. His status is day to day.

Listen to audio from Sekera below.

Andrej Sekera

---Mike Harrington

Tropp joins Roy and Pominville

The Sabres are on the ice for an early practice in First Niagara Center before heading to Florida and coach Lindy Ruff, as per usual, has some of his lines jazzed up to try to spark more offense.

The red-hot Tyler Ennis line, flanked by Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford, remains together.  The struggling Vanek-Roy-Pominville trio has been broken up. 

Roy and Pominville now have Corey Tropp on left wing, giving them a solid grinder to play with. Vanek is back on right wing with Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson. Brad Boyes is centering Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta.

Nathan Gerbe (upper body) is missing from the practice.  On defense, Andrej Sekera is playing on the extra pair with Tyler Myers but Ruff was hopeful on Wednesday Sekera would play this weekend. McNabb-Weber, Regehr-Leopold and Ehrhoff-Sulzer stay together.

More after practice.

---Mike Harrington

Breaking NHL news: Ovechkin hurt at Caps practice, but Hunter says he's OK

The Sabres are off today and return to the ice at 10 a.m. Friday before heading to Florida. The big story in the NHL tonight is the return of Sidney Crosby as the Penguins play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but there's some breaking news this morning out of Washington that could have a huge impact on the playoff race.

Caps star Alex Ovechkin has left practice early after a collision with teammate Mike Knuble. There's no word yet on the nature of his injury but the Washington Times is reporting Ovechkin was on the ice for about two minutes being attended to by trainers before moving to the bench and eventually leaving.

Ovechkin has 29 goals and 24 assists in 66 games, quite a down year for him. But he's been heating up lately as the Caps have won four straight to seize a three-point lead over the Sabres in the battle for eighth. Washington has four straight road toughies coming up, starting Friday in Winnipeg and moving on to Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, so the Caps certainly need the No Longer Great Eight in the lineup.

Here's the 1 p.m. update:

The Washington Post says Ovechkin is OK  and making the trip and did not suffer any kind of head injury. The Caps are also looking forward to the return of Nicklas Backstrom.

Meanwhile, Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times has a similar report but also points out the Caps were far from truthful about Ovechkin's status last  month, when an "equipment issue"  suddenly became an upper-body injury.

So Ovechkin bears watching during the Caps' road trip, both for his play and his health.

---Mike Harrington

Video: Postgame interviews after Sabres' 5-4 loss to Avs

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Live from the FNC: Sabres vs. Avalanche

Mario Williams, Thomas Vanek and the Sabres' forgettable summer of 2007

The free agency buzz in Buffalo is off the charts thanks to the Bills' courtship of Mario Williams, the prize defensive player on the NFL market. Fans are grasping at every bit of news and juicy rumor hoping to get confirmation Williams is in Buffalo to stay.

It got me thinking of the last time free agency gripped the region. The summer of 2007 came immediately to mind. The Sabres had two stars (Chris Drury and Daniel Briere) and a star-to-be (Thomas Vanek) headed toward the market.

As fans no doubt recall, the Sabres elected not to keep Briere and Drury. Their departures forced Buffalo to match Edmonton's seven-year, $50 million offer sheet to Vanek.

What if they didn't need to keep Vanek? Well, they would have gotten four first-round picks from the Oilers.

In 2008, that would have meant Buffalo owned the 12th (which originally belonged to Edmonton) and 13th picks in the draft. The Sabres moved up from 13th to 12th (and gave up a third-rounder in the process) to select Tyler Myers. Defenseman Colton Teubert went 13th to Los Angeles, but with Myers already on board the Sabres could have picked a forward.

The Oilers selected Jordan Eberle with the 22nd pick, so that would have worked out OK. He has 48 goals and 108 points in 134 games.

Now, with Vanek in Edmonton, there's no telling if the Oilers would have been as bad a team as they've been. But, just to make this easy, here's who else the Sabres would have gotten with Edmonton's picks the next three years:

2009: Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (17 goals, 42 points, 121 games)

2010: Taylor Hall (48 goals, 94 points, 124 games)

2011: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (15 goals, 41 points, 49 games)

Think the Oilers would trade those four for Vanek today? Me neither.

The only message to take from all that: Hey, Bills, don't screw up this free agency season.

---John Vogl

Sabres, Avs both in middle of crazy races

I'm no fan of going back to the NHL's old system of qualifying for the playoffs and this season is a classic example why. The top four in each propsed new "conference" would already be decided in some cases. Think anything is decided in a 1-8 scramble like this year? Nope.

The Sabres, of course, are in the middle of a race with Washington, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay for eighth in the East (and Florida should be included too because it's just a point up on Washington). And the Colorado Avalanche hit town tonight in a four-way tie for eighth in the West -- with Phoenix just one point ahead in seventh.

The four-way became a reality last night when San Jose lost in overtime at Calgary and Los Angeles beat Detroit. The Sharks, Flames, Kings and Avs all have 78 points. Colorado is 11-5-1 in its  last 17 games.

"The west is crazy," Lindy Ruff said today. "You look at San Jose and Calgary and look at them all bottled up at 78 points and that race is crazier than ours in the East."

The Sabres took a hit last night when the New York Islanders blew a pair of three-goal leads and suffered a 5-4 shootout loss to Washington. It's the third time in the last eight games the Capitals looked dead in the water in regulation and pulled out points.

Cracked Ruff:  "When it went to 4-3, I went to the hardware store to buy lights. I couldn't watch anymore."

 ---Mike Harrington

Sabres disappointed Myers got three games

It's pretty clear Tyler Myers knew he was getting suspended for Monday's hit on Scott Gomez and that Lindy Ruff figured his big defenseman was in trouble with the long arm of the NHL law as well. But the Sabres didn't seem prepared for the news that Myers was going to be out for three games with just 12 left in the playoff race, starting tonight against Colorado and continuing through the team's crucial Southern trip to Florida and Tampa Bay.

"I was surprised, disappointed," Ruff said after today's optional morning skate in First Niagara Center. "I felt as a first-time offender, that was a little harsh."

"They made their decision. It is what it is," Myers said. "I knew it was going to be something. I just have to be smarter than that going into a situation like that. I never meant for him to get hurt. I wish him a quick recovery."

The Canadiens expect Gomez to miss at least the next three games, so that clearly played into the league's ruling. What has the Sabres agitated about the decision of NHL VP Brendan Shanahan is the fact Nathan Gerbe missed 10 games due to a concussion from a similar hit Dec. 7 by Philadelphia defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon that did not draw even draw a hearing, let alone a suspension. Review that sequence here, which was capped by Matt Ellis standing up for Gerbe with Bourdon. Clearly, the NBC crew in town that night thought it was a dicey hit.

Consistency seems to be the Sabres' big issue.

"I agree that it is," Ruff said. "One of our players can be basically in an identical situation and there was nothing. There's disappointment so we've got to get by that and get ready to win a game."

Myers said he can't let the suspension change the physical nature of his game.

"I don't want it to change the way I've been playing," he said. "Especially in the D-zone, I've wanted to be more of a physical presence. Obviously I need to be aware of guys' body position on the ice. On that hit, it's a position I can't put myself in."

Brayden McNabb has been called  up from Rochester to replace Myers and Andrej Sekera (pneumonia) skated in a non-contact role this morning. Ruff said he could play this weekend.

Click below for the full audio from Myers and Ruff.

Tyler Myers

Lindy Ruff

---Mike Harrington

Sabres recall McNabb to fill out defense

The Sabres, as expected, have recalled defenseman Brayden McNabb from Rochester. With Tyler Myers set to begin a three-game suspension and Andrej Sekera suffering from pneumonia, the Sabres were one man short on defense.

Because Sekera is ill, Buffalo was allowed to summon McNabb on an emergency basis. Teams are allowed only four regular recalls after the trade deadline but can make emergency recalls as needed, as General Manager Darcy Regier recently explained.

McNabb is expected to play tonight against Colorado. The first-year pro has one goal and five points in 20 games with the Sabres this season.

---John Vogl

Sabres' Ruff hoping for Neal-like surge by Hodgson

Lindy Ruff knows slumping Cody Hodgson will become a contributor for the Sabres. The coach looked a little south for evidence to back him up.

James Neal was lost after Pittsburgh acquired him last season. The forward had 21 goals and 39 points in 59 games for Dallas, but he recorded just one goal and six points in 20 games with Pittsburgh.

This season, Neal is a monster. He has 31 goals and 65 points in 68 games to help keep the Penguins rolling in Sidney Crosby's absence. (The Kid will return Thursday against the Rangers.)

After putting up 16 goals and 33 points in 63 games with Vancouver, Hodgson has nothing to show for eight outings in Buffalo.

"It’ll come," Ruff said. "I’m not concerned. I think you look at it, and it’s obviously disappointing. But it will come. It’s probably no different than when James Neal went to Pittsburgh last year. There was a 'it’s not working out,’ then all of a sudden it works out.

"For the most part, I’ve been happy. He’s been in on some great opportunities that haven’t finished, but he’ll finish."

---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 |