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Leino back for Sabres, trying not to think about offensive troubles and buyout possibility

By John Vogl

MONTREAL -- Ville Leino will get another chance to score his first goal. The offensively challenged winger, who was scratched for the previous two games, will play against Montreal tonight with center Zenon Konopka out with a back injury.

"I’ll just try to make plays, work hard and try to create some offense, create some chances," Leino said in Bell Centre. "That’s my game. I can’t be anyone else."

He certainly hasn't been what Buffalo expected when it signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract in 2011. Leino has no goals and only 34 shots in 50 games this season. He has 12 assists and hasn't reached the score sheet in 10 games.

"I’m sure it weighs on me, too, but obviously there’s a lot of other guys on the team, too, that hasn’t been able to really help that much either," said Leino, who has tried to avoid thoughts of his benching. "There’s so much going on in here in the organization with how this team’s been lately. I’m just trying to stay focused and not think about it too much. When you go in, do your best."

Coach Ted Nolan benched Leino primarily because of a giveaway last Tuesday in Calgary.

"It’s not a good play," Leino said. "You don’t want to do that play, but saying that we’re not able to bail ourselves out of those situations. Nobody’s bailing you out. It’s three-on-three. It turns the other way, then we lose guys and lose battles and don’t box out. It always happens when you try to do that. When you’re not playing good, those things end up going in.

"I’ll try to stay away from that. Saying that, I’ve still got to try to make plays when there’s an opportunity. Sometimes, it involves a little bit of a risk and taking a chance. I’ll try to stay out of it because that will bite me apparently."

Because of his struggles, Leino is a candidate to be a compliance buyout this summer as the Sabres seek to get out of the final three seasons of his contract.

"I can’t really do anything about it, so I’ll accept whatever it is," Leino said. "When the season’s over, that’s time to think about that."

Leino will play alongside center Matt Ellis and left wing John Scott on the Sabres' fourth line. The other lines will be Tyler Ennis in the middle of Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford, Cody Hodgson centering for Cory Conacher and Torrey Mitchell, and Brian Flynn flanked by Nicolas Deslauriers and Matt D'Agostini.

Don't go downtown: Sabres cancel morning skate

By Mike Harrington

Tonight's game against the Montreal Canadiens is the Sabres' fifth in eight days and comes following their late-night return from Long Island and their 4-1 loss to the Islanders. And with a long flight to Calgary scheduled after practice Monday, the Sabres have announced they have canceled their morning skate today in First Niagara Center.

I've already gotten an email and some inquiries on Twitter because the morning skates on the weekend tend to be popular with fans. So this is your official notice: Don't go downtown. The building will be shuttered because there's nothing to see today.

The Sabres haven't been much to see of late either. They've lost five straight, equaling their season high, and have scored just five goals in those games. The Habs, meanwhile, were four minutes away from falling to 0-4 with old friend Thomas Vanek in the lineup but pulled off a miracle rally Saturday night against Ottawa.

Trailing, 4-1, Montreal scored three goals to tie the game -- with the equalizer by David Desharnais coming with three-tenths of a second left -- and got a Francis Bouillon goal in overtime to post a stunning 5-4 win. 

In fact, it was more than stunning. It was historic. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time in NHL history a team has trailed by three goals in the final five minutes and came back to win a game. Wow. NEVER happened before? Amazing.

Vanek will be making his first appearance in Buffalo since getting traded by the Sabres to the Islanders on Oct. 27. He has 21 goals and 33 assists this season in 64 games between the three teams. He has just one assist so far with the Habs, who have already bounced him between some lines.

If you missed them, here are the video highlights/lowlights of the Habs' big comeback and the Sabres' latest dreary loss:

Continue reading "Don't go downtown: Sabres cancel morning skate" »

Dudley simply having too much fun in Montreal to leave for Sabres' GM post

By Mike Harrington

Rick Dudley is having too much fun with the Montreal Canadiens.

You can go through the all the complicated scenarios you want, but that's the bottom line to why the former Sabres player and coach has opted to stay as the assistant general manager with the Habs and not become a candidate for Buffalo's open GM job.

The Sabres asked for permission to talk to Dudley earlier this week, Dudley told reporters tonight in a meeting in the First Niagara Center press box. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin told Dudley he would give the permission, but wanted a chance to talk to Dudley as well. As it turned out, Dudley never talked to the Sabres. TSN reported the Habs gave him a lucrative contract extension, although Dudley wouldn't comment on those details other than to admit he got years added on to his deal.

"I went to Montreal because of Marc Bergevin," Dudley said. "I enjoy the people I work with. it's fun. It's a great gig. if you enjoy something a great deal, why change if you don't have to?

"I'm having a ball in Montreal and I want to stay there. It's been fun from day one. We've got a wonderful group of players, coaches, the entire staff. It was a situation I didn't think I could walk away from."

Continue reading "Dudley simply having too much fun in Montreal to leave for Sabres' GM post" »

Briere on wearing Habs crest: 'It's pretty cool'

Briere
Daniel Briere is back in town tonight. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

Daniel Briere has played in Buffalo many times since departing in 2007 but all of those games came while he was with the Philadelphia Flyers. Tonight is a little different for the former Sabres captain as he makes his first trip here with his beloved hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens.

Standing in the Habs dressing room early this afternoon after their pregame skate, Briere was wearing a blue Montreal T-shirt with the classic white C-H Montreal logo and I asked him what it meant to be wearing that logo after playing 16 years in the NHL with three other teams.

"It's pretty cool," Briere said with a wide smile. "I grew up cheering for the Montreal Canadiens so it's special for me personally to wear that uniform, go in and play games and have friends around in the Montreal area. I'm just trying to enjoy every single moment of it."

Briere has four goals and three assists in 14 games for the Habs this season and is playing left wing on the top line with Tomas Plekanac and Rochester-area native Brian Gionta. Briere missed 10 games with a concussion suffered Oct. 19 against Nashville -- his third in the last three years -- but has been back for the last six games.

"He's a good veteran," Habs coach Michel Therrien said today. "We all understand he had great seasons here with the Sabres and I'm sure it's going to be a special night for him to play for the Montreal Canadiens against the Sabres in a place where he had a lot of success."

News columnist Bucky Gleason spoke exclusively to Briere earlier today and they discussed concussions, the Sabres' coach/GM changes and more. Be sure to read Gleason's column in the Thanksgiving Day editions of The News.

 

Sabres' road to playoffs might soon feature 'Do Not Enter' sign

By John Vogl

The Buffalo Sabres’ path to the playoffs is filled with signs that read “Rough Road Ahead.”

It might soon read “Do Not Enter.”

The Sabres enter tonight’s home game against Montreal in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. More important than their standing is how far back of a playoff spot they have fallen.

The seventh-place New York Islanders and eighth-place Rangers both have 44 points. The Sabres are six back with 38. Each team has eight games remaining.

The Isles and Rangers are on pace for 53 points. For the Sabres to match that, they need to go 7-0-1 down the stretch.

“Anything can happen,” left wing Thomas Vanek said today First Niagara Center. “So many teams probably thought they were out of it, then they won three games in a row. Until the end, you have a chance.”

Another loss or two would all but end Buffalo’s chances.

“There’s a lot of points up for grabs here,” left wing Steve Ott said. “It’s going to be a tough task.”

Montreal is fourth in the Eastern Conference but has the third-most points with 55. The Habs are only one point behind Northeast Division-leading Boston. Buffalo is 4-0-1 in its last five home games against Montreal and 8-1-1 in the last 10 overall.

Ryan Miller will start in goal tonight. Interim coach Ron Rolston said Jhonas Enroth will start one of the Sabres’ next two games, either Saturday against Philadelphia or Sunday against Tampa Bay.

John Scott will be scratched for the Sabres.

“Everyone in that locker room still believes we’re a playoff team,” Rolston said.

Ron Rolston

Sabres set to face Budaj after Canadiens give goalie two-year extension

By John Vogl

The Sabres are about to take on a very happy man.

Montreal and goaltender Peter Budaj have agreed to a two-year contract extension worth a reported $1.4 million per year. The Sabres host the Canadiens on Thursday, and the Habs announced that Budaj will start in place of No. 1 netminder Carey Price.

Budaj is 6-1-1 this season with a 2.28 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. The 30-year-old is 3-1 in his career against Buffalo with a 2.37 GAA and .922 save percentage.

The Sabres took today off following their late-night flight from Winnipeg.

Postgame audio: They said it after OT win over the Habs

By Mike Harrington

MONTREAL -- We'll start with the cockeyed optimist approach. The Sabres' 3-2 overtime victory over the Canadiens has them just six points behind a logjam of teams (Carolina, Toronto, Rangers, New Jersey) that are tied for spots 6-9 in the Eastern Conference. And it came on a day the team actually sent out playoff invoices to season ticket holders that said it needed to be prepared "so that tickets are available WHEN the Sabres clinch a playoff spot." (I put the capitals in for emphasis). Ooooook.

I've stopped laughing now. The realistic approach is that they're still 13th in the East and they still have the league's worst power play. But the line shifts by Ron Rolston looked good until Thomas Vanek got hurt, the power play is starting to get more pressure and Jhonas Enroth has suddenly became as reliable as Ryan Miller.

After all the rigamarole over the last three days, this team is nothing but interesting no matter where its place in the standings is. Enough talking from me.  Let them talk after the win.

Steve Ott

Jhonas Enroth

Jordan Leopold

Ron Rolston

Rolston breaks up top line, Enroth to start tonight vs. Montreal

By Mike Harrington

MONTREAL -- Quick notes from the end of the Sabres' morning skate:

---Interim coach Ron Rolston said after Sunday's game he might break up the top line and he made good on the thought today. Thomas Vanek has been dropped to the second trio and replaced by Steve Ott. Patrick Kaleta is also back in after missing six games, five on his suspension and Sunday's as a healthy scratch.

The lines were Ott-Hodgson-Pominville, Vanek-Ennis-Leino, Foligno-Porter-Flynn, Hecht-Stafford-Kaleta. The scratches are Gerbe and Scott.

---Jhonas Enroth will be in goal in place of Ryan Miller. He's 2-0 in three games against the Habs in his career with a 2.42 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.

More to come, with audio.

Deja vu video: Foligno does the dirty work on tying goals

By Mike Harrington

Lindy Ruff said it was the first play he thought of. Marcus Foligno said the memory quickly came back to him as well.

The Sabres tied Thursday night's game against Montreal with 1.9 seconds left as Thomas Vanek jabbed home a puck after a bullrush in the offensive zone by Marcus Foligno. It was eerily similar to Jordan Leopold's tying goal last April against Toronto that led to an an overtime victory.

That goal, however, Foligno never saw. After beating Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek to the spot, Foligno was pinned to the ice with Komisarek's knee on his head. But he had the last word, finally getting up to howl at the Leafs veteran.

Continue reading "Deja vu video: Foligno does the dirty work on tying goals" »

Sabres' Pominville on Canadiens: 'There'd be no better team to beat'

By John Vogl

The Sabres got destroyed in Montreal last weekend. It was a 6-1 blowout that would have been even worse if Ryan Miller had joined the rest of his teammates in taking the first period off.

The Sabres don't have to wait long for a chance at redemption. The Canadiens visit First Niagara Center tonight for the teams' second meeting of the season.

Sabres captain Jason Pominville knows it needs to be better than the first.

"They outplayed us, they outskated us, they outbattled us," Pominville said this morning. "They just played better than we were. It was an off night for us, a good night for them.

"We have a chance to bounce back in our building. I think there’d be no better team to beat than them the way we lost in their house."

Continue reading "Sabres' Pominville on Canadiens: 'There'd be no better team to beat'" »

Audio: Sabres' Ryan Miller gets the start in Montreal

By John Vogl

 MONTREAL -- Ryan Miller's dominance of the Maple Leafs is well-known, but he's pretty darn good against Montreal, too.

Miller will get the start this afternoon against the Canadiens in Bell Centre, which isn't much of a suprise considering his career success against the Habs. He's 23-8-6 in 37 starts, with a 2.20 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

Hear him talk about the state of his game and teammate Thomas Vanek in the audio file below.

Live from Bell Centre: Sabres at Canadiens

Canadiens may get Subban back against Sabres; Boston's Thornton concussed

By John Vogl

MONTREAL -- The Canadiens might get a huge boost on the blue line when they host the Sabres on Saturday.

Continue reading "Canadiens may get Subban back against Sabres; Boston's Thornton concussed" »

Sabres might get debut of Habs' Subban in Saturday's game

By Mike Harrington

Defenseman P.K. Subban, who was an unsigned restricted free agent, inked a two-year, $5.75 million deal with the Montreal Canadiens Monday night. Speaking following today's pregame skate at the Bell Centre for tonight's game against Winnipeg, Habs coach Michel Therrien said he's taking a wait-and-see approach on Subban.

Subban won't play tonight and isn't likely to play tomorrow night in Ottawa either. Montreal's next game after that? Saturday at 2 in the Bell Centre against the Sabres. 

Subban is a wildly popular player at home. Not so popular in the locker room of most NHL teams, including the Sabres. His return would make for quite an electric scene Saturday.

With Subban and Dallas' Jamie Benn now signed, the only unsigned RFA left is Colorado's Ryan O’Reilly.

With Grigorenko decision looming, fate decided for other junior eligibles

Galchen
The Canadiens are keeping No. 3 overall pick Alex Galchenyuk. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres are still up in the air with Mikhail Grigorenko even though the decision to keep him in the NHL seems like a no-brainer from this view. He's talented, he's creative and he plays center -- an area this team is woefully thin at. You want to see Grigorenko or Matt Ellis? You want them to force Ville Leino back to center, as Lindy Ruff mused about today? Please.

Keep the kid.

Still, it's only been 50-50 among other NHL teams about keeping key junior eligibles or sending them back. Here's a quick rundown:

Continue reading "With Grigorenko decision looming, fate decided for other junior eligibles" »

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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 | [email protected]

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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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