Lindy Ruff directs practice Wednesday. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
By Mike Harrington
The Sabres practiced for nearly an hour this afternoon in First Niagara Center on what was supposed to be a day off. Coach Lindy Ruff approached team leadership and they agreed (at 3-6-1, what could they really say?).
"For us, it's education," said goalie Ryan Miller. "I don't think it's a punishment day. It's not a you-guys-need-to-wake-up day. We need to learn, spend some time in the classroom so to speak."
(6:30 p.m. update -- As I mentioned earlier today, the new CBA seems to say teams can't do this sort of thing. A PA spokesman just e-mailed me to say the association is reviewing the matter).
The Montreal Canadiens are here Thursday, the Sabres travel to Long Island Saturday and host Boston Sunday. They're 14th in the East and could be last overall in the NHL based on other results as soon as tomorrow night.
Ruff said he chatted with owner Terry Pegula Wednesday morning -- saying only "we talked hockey" -- and admitted he knows what the fanbase is saying. And what might be said if these next three games go poorly for his team?
There's no real practice time in the NHL this season. Not with this bottleneck of a schedule. So the Sabres were on the ice less than 45 minutes today in First Niagara Center before heading to Ottawa for tomorrow's game against the Senators.
And they were still shaking their heads over the way Sunday's 3-1 lead against Florida -- which hit town last in the Eastern Conference -- turned into a 4-3 loss.
"We have some things to clean up," said defenseman Tyler Myers. "A 3-1 lead, we didn't bury a lot of chances in the second period ... There's a way you have to play and we gave up too much and let them back in the game."
Of course, there's little scoring from anyone other than the top line right now. Drew Stafford, a former 31-goal scorer stuck at zero for his $4 million contract, said more scoring and more awareness in games is needed.
"It needs to happen and it needs to happen right now," Stafford said. "We don't have a lot of time to turn it back around. If you do lose a couple in a row, that hurts. That's something we're doing our best to address but we need to be even better."
Sabres winger Thomas Vanek put together three more points Sunday against Florida and the league's white-hot leading scorer was named the NHL's First Star of the Week today (The other stars were Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo).
Vanek had five goals and five assists in just four games while compiling a plus-6 rating. For the season, he leads the league with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in eight games. Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay is next with 16.
Asked his thoughts on the honor today, Vanek said, "I don't have too many. Our line is going well but we're not producing wins so that's about it. I think I found two guys I feel real comfortable with. The passes we make and the shots that we take, a lot of them go in. But again, it doesn't matter. You do well and you lose games, it doesn't feel good."
Coach Lindy Ruff is obviously loving the way the line of Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville has combined for 41 points thus far. The problem? No other Sabre has more than two goals or five points.
"We have something special that we have a line that, as they say in Spanish, is 'en fuego,' " said Ruff. "Everybody else would be jealous of that line right now. But now we don't have the secondary so now we're jealous of the secondary around the league when the league is looking and going, 'Holy man, they got a line that's as hot as any line in the league.'
"You love having that. That line has so much confidence and makes so many plays and is playing so well together, now we've got to find the other side
Click below to hear audio from Vanek on the award -- he's not impressed -- and the current sad state of the Sabres.
This year's shortened NHL schedule doesn't allow any game -- win or loss -- to linger, so it's probably a good thing the Buffalo Sabres had less than 24 hours to stew over yesterday's debacle in Montreal before meeting the Florida Panthers today at 3 in First Niagara Center.
The clarion calls to bench either or both of Tyler Myers/Jordan Leopold can't be heard today. Andrej Sekera's sore left ankle, struck by a shot yesterday, will keep him out of the lineup. T.J. Brennan comes in and the Sabres are down to six healthy defensemen. Ruff said the team is hopeful Sekera's injury is only a short-term item and Sekera was seen walking the dressing room hallway with no limp.
"We've really had some defensemen that have struggled," Ruff said during his pregame media briefing in the 1 o'clock hour. "That has been evident. You have to put those mistakes behind you in a real tight schedule like this. You can't dwell on those mistakes. ... We'll try to clean them up for today."
BOSTON -- It's been nearly 15 months but Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller was still on the media's minds today in TD Garden in advance of tonight's Sabres-Bruins game. Boston reporters swarmed new Sabres Steve Ott and John Scott in the locker room after the team's 40-minute pregame skate and peppered Lindy Ruff with questions about the Sabres' new approach.
Was adding Ott and Scott a reaction to Lucic? "It was just overall team toughness, make us a grittier team," said a clearly agitated Ruff. "It had nothing to do with the Bruins."
"You try to win the puck battles and the territorial battles. We have to win a game. Not coming out of here with points is not being successful. In a short season we need points. We've answered the physcial challenge. We've been there for each other from day one in this. We play a gritty style, a hitting style. We have to win games."
There was so much talk about Mikhail Grigorenko this morning that reporters couldn't be in two places at once. The Sabres were skating on the ice while Darcy Regier was making his announcement that the 18-year-old was staying, so putting together tonight's lines would be total guesswork.
Grigorenko started Sunday with Steve Ott and Drew Stafford and finished it between Jochen Hecht and Marcus Foligno. But that game was played without Thomas Vanek, and the team's leading scorer is back in tonight to rejoin Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville so the lines may juggle again. Nathan Gerbe is expected to be scratched.
There are big moves on the blueline as well. Coach Lindy Ruff said Mike Weber and T.J. Brennan, healthy scratches for the first five games of the season, will both be in the lineup. Robyn Regehr and Alexander Sulzer are out.
The Sabres ended their morning skate today like they often do -- with coach Lindy Ruff calling them over to the boards across the rink from their bench for a quick chat. But as the group broke up, sticks were tapped on the ice and a few gloves face-washed rookie Mikhail Grigorenko in a form of hockey-team congratulations.
Ruff had just broken the news to the players that Sabres fans everywhere were waiting to hear: Grigorenko is staying in the NHL. He'll be in the lineup tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It's really amazing news and I'm really happy and really excited," Grigorenko said. "It's a good step in my career and I'll do everything to show people they made the right choice."
General Manager Darcy Regier told The News Monday night that Grigorenko would likely have stayed in juniors this year had this been a regular 82-game season. But Regier said now that he's starred for half a season in the Quebec League and for Russia in the World Junior Championships, his NHL timetable was accelerated.
No decision on Mikhail Grigorenko yet. (Harry Scull/Buffalo News)
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.
"It's like burning a game," Ruff admitted when I asked if it might have been better to simply scratch Grigorenko rather than dress him and not use him. Ruff then admitted that getting the rookie added practice time might be in the cards, so the team isn't forced into a decision just yet.
Part of it is out of necessity as Thomas Vanek is not on the ice. Ruff said after the 3-1 loss to Carolina that Vanek would likely get today off after taking a tumble during the game and suffering an undetermined muscle strain (looked like a hard fall on his back).
Still, with only one goal from a forward in four games other than the line of Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville, things have to change. Here's how Ruff has the lines put together today:
It was an optional morning skate for the Sabres today in preparation for tonight's game against Carolina. Ryan Miller will be in goal, likely against Hurricanes backup Dan Ellis. The Sabres aren't expected to make any lineup changes, and coach Lindy Ruff said he's not looking to shift any lines yet, even though only Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville is producing any offense.
"The great thing is we got one of the hottest lines in the league," Ruff said of the trio, which has eight of the team's 10 goals. "The bad thing is it's the only line that's scoring right now. But I would take three goals out of a hot line over maybe two goals from two different lines."
One of the few guys on the ice was winger Ville Leino, who skated hard for 20-25 minutes before coming off the ice. Leino has yet to play this season with what has been revealed to be an injury to his right hip.
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, 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.