By Mike Harrington
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel will become the 37th player to dress for the Sabres this season when he makes his season debut tonight in Nationwide Arena. And it's in a tough spot against the Blue Jackets, who are on a franchise-record eight-game winning streak.
"He can skate. We need good puck-moving defensemen," interim coach Ted Nolan said after today's pregame skate. "Everybody looks for them and he'll have his opportunity tonight."
Ruhwedel didn't look out of place in seven NHL games when he was signed late last season right out of the Mass-Lowell blueline following the Frozen Four. And he's been solid this year in Rochester, leading Amerks blueliners with 17 points in 34 games.
Last season, especially the end of it, was quite the whirlwind for Ruhwedel but he said he's adjusted well this year.
"It's the biggest bonus of my game compared to last time," he said. "I've adapted to the pro style of hockey and hopefully it goes well tonight."
The same can be said for rookie Phil Varone, who will be playing his second NHL game and first on the road. Varone had an assist in Thursday's 5-3 loss to Carolina but didn't play much in the third period as Nolan went for a more experienced look with Ville Leino on the ice.
"I feel a little more comfortable getting to know the guys a little bit more," Varone said. "Getting a game and a couple practices under your belt gives you an idea what you can do to incorporate your game into the NHL level. I don't feel the way I did two days ago and I feel I can do more."
"The one thing I really liked about Phil is his hockey IQ," Nolan said. "Certain things you can teach but you can't teach what you have is a given talent. He can read the ice, he has a good vision for it."
It's a tough spot for young players to be in against an opponent that's so hot. After needing to go to a shootout last week in Buffalo, Columbus coach Todd Richards is wary of the Sabres.
"We've been in their shoes just two years ago. We were in a similar position of 29th to 30th place," Richards said. "Your chance of making the playoffs is all but gone and you use other things to go after. One of them is playing the role of spoiler and improve as a team.
"To me this is an opportunity. Right now based on schedule and wins we're the hottest team in the NHL and I think that's an opportunity for the Buffalo Sabres to come in and challenge and beat us. I've been there. I know what it's like and I admire the way they've played because they play a hard game. They're making it more difficult on the opponents."
"Confidence is a wonderful thing," Nolan said. "When you get on that roll, you believe you can win and right now they're on a good streak. They believe all the stuff they're doing is working."
Alexander Sulzer, Linus Omark and John Scott will be the healthy scratches. In goal it will be Ryan Miller against Sergei Bobrovsky in a battle of former Vezina Trophy winners.
Click below to hear Nolan's chat with reporters today.
taggedChad Ruhwedel | Sabres game day