By Mike Harrington
The Sabres had an optional practice today in First Niagara Center, a clear result of the tight schedule that saw the club open the season with five games in eight days. Several players, notably the top-line forwards, stayed off the ice with what coach Lindy Ruff termed "light groins" and Ruff said it was more important for them to be rested for tomorrow's visit by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Two guys who took the ice, however, garnered most of the day's attention. Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko had a full practice, even working on faceoffs with assistant coach Kevyn Adams, and Thomas Vanek skated in several drills after missing Sunday's loss in Washington with a muscle strain believed to be in his back or rib cage.
Grigorenko said the Sabres have yet to tell him if he's staying in the NHL or returning to his junior team in Quebec. Ruff said he was optimistic Vanek would return to the lineup tomorrow.
The Grigorenko decision would appear to be an easy one. He played well in 17 minutes Sunday, seemingly closing in on his first NHL goal. And the Sabres are thin down the middle.
"I'm not the coach. I will not decide if I play or not," Grigorenko said. "I think I've done everything I could. I've done a lot of work, working really hard."
Grigorenko has played five games and his entry-level deal kicks in if he plays six. Ruff acknowledged the Sabres have thought about scratching Grigorenko tomorrow to get him more NHL time without the game clock ticking.
"They could tell me today, they could tell me tomorrow, they could keep me for one week to practice," Grigorenko said. "They could do a lot of things and I'm ready for anything. Anything they say, I'll accept."
"I thought he held up pretty good [in Sunday's 3-2 loss at Washington]," Ruff said. "Had a great opportunity to score, played as many minutes of any game so far."
As for Vanek, the Sabres' leading scorer said he felt much better Monday than he did Sunday morning. Just the second player in Sabres history to open a season with nine points in four games, Vanek said the tight schedule may have forced him to sit a game out for better longterm yields.
"If it's just a game tomorrow and then you have four days in between, you think about it a little harder," Vanek said. "In the end, since we play every other day or back to backs, there's no point at playing at 70 or 80 percent. you're not going to help the team."
Click below to hear audio from Ruff, Vanek and Grigorenko
taggedLindy Ruff | Mikhail Grigorenko | Thomas Vanek