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Sabres recall Ristolainen due to injuries on blue line

By John Vogl

UNIONDALE -- After four months in the minors, Rasmus Ristolainen is back with the Sabres.

Buffalo has recalled its top pick in the 2013 draft on an emergency basis because of injuries to the defense corps. Alex Sulzer suffered an upper-body injury Thursday in Carolina, while blue-liners Tyler Myers and Mike Weber also got dinged up.

The Sabres visit the New York Islanders tonight.

Ristolainen, 19, started the season in Buffalo and scored once in his 19 games with the Sabres. Ristolainen was sent down to Rochester in mid-November when Pat LaFontaine took over as president of hockey operations and ended the youth movement that had four teenagers in the lineup.

After leaving Buffalo, Ristolainen scored the gold medal-winning goal for Finland in the world junior championships and had six goals and 18 points in 30 games with the Amerks.

With World Juniors over, it's back to decision time on Ristolainen and Grigorenko

How's your Finnish? Forget TSN. Here's the how-it-sounded-back-home TV call to the folks in Helsinki and environs as Rasmus Ristolainen scores the Golden Goal to beat Sweden.

By Mike Harrington

With the World Junior Championships complete, it's back to decision time for the Sabres with their three highly-touted young stars.

Defenseman Nikita Zadorov, a tournament all-star for Russia, is certainly going back to London of the OHL so he can be a standout there and get experience playing in the Memorial Cup. As hosts, the Knights get an automatic bid to Canada's premier junior championship tournament. Easy call.

The picture is not so clear for Rasmus Ristolainen and Mikhail Grigorenko.

Ristolainen, who scored the golden goal in overtime Sunday for Finland over Sweden, played 19 games for the Sabres before heading to Rochester and then joining the Finnish team. He was named the most outstanding defenseman in the tournament.

The team's No. 1 draft pick from last June could probably use more time in the AHL rather than be thrust into an NHL lineup on a weak team. But the Sabres have holes on defense with Alexander Sulzer, Jamie McBain and Mike Weber making for marginal NHLers and resurgent Tyler Myers perhaps looking at a multi-game suspension for Saturday's hit on Dainius Zubrus of the Devils.

While there might be some temptation to bring him to the NHL, Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine want to develop players and not rush them and they have that avenue by sending Ristolainen back to  Rochester. It's not so easy for Grigorenko.

Grigorenko can't go to Rochester but the Sabres can send him back to junior. The Quebec Remparts have struggled to make room for him but could trade him by Tuesday's Quebec League deadline. Or the Sabres could bring him back to Buffalo and try again to see if they can get any of his offensive talent to shine at age 19 in the NHL. He led Russia in the tourney with five goals, eight points and a plus-6 rating, and scored the first goal against Canada in the Russians' bronze-medal game victory.

You be Nolan and LaFontaine for a minute. What do you do?

Sabres make major line swaps in attempt to score; Ristolainen named to world juniors

By John Vogl

Ted Nolan has been very patient with his forward lines since taking over as coach. He wanted to give players a chance to perform with consistent linemates before making sweeping changes.

The time has come to make those changes.

The Sabres went with four new lines for practice today and will likely use them Tuesday when Ottawa visits First Niagara Center.

"When you’re not getting wins, sometimes things have to change," said left wing Matt Moulson. "You’ve got to perform and produce to keep going. Coach is looking for some different combinations to get things going, and hopefully everyone jells together."

The Sabres have just 10 goals in the last eight games, with droughts dotting the lineup. The new lines:

Moulson-Tyler Ennis-Zemgus Girgensons

Marcus Foligno-Steve Ott-Drew Stafford

Luke Adam-Cody Hodgson-Matt D'Agostini

John Scott-Ville Leino/Cody McCormick-Brian Flynn

The first line had been Hodgson in the middle of Moulson and Stafford.

"Our top line is having a little trouble," Nolan said. "Maybe the chemistry isn’t quite right, so we talked to them and decided instead of trying to have one we’ll have three. We have to get this thing turned around together."

Defenseman Alexander Sulzer returned to practice for the first time in a week but will not play Tuesday.

Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has been named to Finland's world junior team. He suffered a concussion last week playing in Rochester but is still expected to play for his home country.

"I’m quite sure we’ll give him permission to play there," Nolan said.

Ted Nolan

Cody Hodgson

Ristolainen out after sucker-punch

by Amy Moritz

There is more injury news out of Rochester today as Rasmus Ristolainen will miss the next three games for the Americans.

Disclosed only as an "upper body injury," it is likely that Ristolainen suffered a concussion after he was punched in the head Friday night.

According to media reports from Rochester, it was a sucker-punch from Lake Erie Monsters center Mitchell Heard in the final seconds of the Amerks' 5-3 win.

"I just talked to him and he said something and then I got punched," Ristolainen said in the Democrat and Chronicle. "I wasn't really looking."

The injury might impact Ristolainen's ability to play in the World Junior Championships. The 19-year old told the Sabres that he wanted to play for his native Finland in the tournament, which runs form Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Sweden.

Vote for your three stars

More lineup news: Zadorov in, Ristolainen to Rochester

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres made it official in the 5 o'clock hour this afternoon, adding defenseman Nikita Zadorov to the active roster and sending fellow 18-year-old and first-round draft pick Rasmus Ristolainen to Rochester.

Zadorov can play up to nine NHL games without activating the first year of his entry-level contract, at which time he would need to return to London of the OHL or officially stay in the NHL. The Sabres could go to seven defensemen tonight against Colorado and scratch center Kevin Porter, who took extra work after today's morning skate.

Ristolainen had no points and a minus-4 rating in eight games. He played 19:17 in Thursday's loss to Vancouver, just three seconds shy of his season high. The 6-foot-5 Zadorov had a strong training camp and a good preseason, but suffered a severe cut to his pinky in the final preseason game at Carolina and has been on the non-roster injured list for players hurt in exhibition play.

Ristolainen back in for Sabres; Grigorenko in line to be scratched again

By John Vogl

UNIONDALE -- One first-round pick will back for Buffalo. It appears another is sitting again.

Rasmus Ristolainen, selected eighth overall in June, will return to the blue line tonight when the Sabres visit the New York Islanders. Ristolainen was minus-3 in the opening six games before getting scratched for Monday's 2-1 loss to Minnesota.

"I have to play a lot better and help the team more," Ristolainen said in Nassau Coliseum.

The defenseman wants to improve his play in front of the net, both through effort and positioning.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Grigorenko is set to be scratched for the second time in four games. The center, selected 12th overall in 2012, joined defenseman Jamie McBain as the only skaters on the ice this morning for an optional workout. McBain is expected to sit, too.

Grigorenko has no points in six games. He started on the third line Monday with wingers Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Flynn but skated just 8:57. It was Grigorenko's second game with less than nine mintues in his last three outings.

To hear from Ristolainen and coach Ron Rolston, click the audio files below.

Ron Rolston

Rasmus Ristolainen

Sabres' Girgensons, Ristolainen eager for NHL debuts

By John Vogl

DETROIT -- Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons were surprisingly calm Tuesday night. Ristolainen slept for 11 hours, while Girgensons said he had his best night of shut-eye in a long time.

The nerves are kicking in today, though.

Ristolainen and Girgensons will make their NHL debuts tonight when the Sabres visit the Detroit Red Wings. The uncommon poise possessed by the teenagers helped them make Buffalo's opening-night roster, but even the most mature player gets nervous for a first game.

"It should be a good one, I hope," Girgensons said this afternoon in Joe Louis Arena. "I just want to help the team, don’t mess up. Everyone’s probably nervous in their first game, not let that go in the head and just keep doing what I’ve been doing.

"The rush is going to be so high that you don’t need to do anything else to get motivated for the game. I’ve just got to go out there and do my thing."

Ristolainen has one goal for his debut.

"I hope we get that first win," he said. "That would be nice."

Girgensons will skate at left wing along with center Mikhail Grigorenko and right wing Brian Flynn. The other lines are Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Drew Stafford, Steve Ott-Tyler Ennis-Ville Leino, and Kevin Porter-Cody McCormick-Patrick Kaleta.

Ristolainen's defense partner will be Mike Weber. Christian Ehrhoff-Mark Pysyk and Henrik Tallinder-Tyler Myers make up the other pairs.

Ryan Miller will start in goal.

Sabres, Kaleta out to prove early they have each other's back

By John Vogl

Patrick Kaleta didn't even see Jamie McBain get dropped with a clean, hard check Sunday night. He just knew McBain was a new teammate and he wanted the Sabres defenseman to know that Buffalo players stick up for each other.

"He’s a new guy, and he’s got to be welcomed on the team," Kaleta said today in First Niagara Center. "He’s got to know that we have his back."

Kaleta and Cody McCormick went after Canadiens who leveled big hits during the Sabres' 5-4 victory in the preseason opener. Kaleta says he might not have challenged normally mild-mannered Alex Galchenyuk during the regular season, but exhibition games are a time to send messages.

"We want to establish that we are a team and no one is going to take liberties on old guys, young guys," Kaleta said. "You’re going to have to deal with all five guys on the ice. We want to establish that early. We want to be a team that’s tough to play against, and you’re going to have to go through five of us, not just one."

The Sabres play their second of seven exhibitions Tuesday in Columbus. To hear coach Ron Rolston talk about the first game, the play of first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, and look forward to the Blue Jackets, click the audio file below.

Ristolainen among four No. 1 picks the last two years hitting ice in Sabres' exhibition opener tonight

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres open the exhibition schedule tonight in Montreal and it will mark the debut of Ron Rolston's new-look coaching staff, as John Vogl wrote about in today's paper. As we learned during today's morning skate, the game is also quite a nod to the team's scouting and development staff as all four No. 1 picks from the last two years (Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nakita Zadorov) will get a chance to take the Bell Centre ice.

Quite a statement indeed.

"Absolutely it is," Rolston said in First Niagara Center prior to the flight to Montreal. "Our goal right now in training camp is there's going to be a lot of opportunity for those players. They're going to get a lot of time here in the exhibitions. They're important to where we're headed and we've got a lot of faith in those guys. So it's going to be important to watch them grow even through this exhibition schedule."

Ristolainen, the No. 8 overall pick in June, will be paired tonight with Mike Weber.

"I'm so excited," said Ristolainen. "I've been waiting a lot to play a game and it's nice to play in Montreal. I've heard it's one of the best rinks in this league and so are the fans, so I'm excited. There's a lot of guys getting chances. I know this is one of my chances. I want to do everything tonight to show my skills."

"He's a solid kid, solid player," Weber said. "He's a man. An 18-year-old man. He's a big boy, skates pretty well, moves the puck really well. He's smart. It's exciting for Sabres fans to have a big guy like that come in and we get to see how he looks against other men. But he's already been playing in a professional league (in Finland). His strength is there so it's all about playing against these guys. The NHL is the best guys in the world."

Continue reading "Ristolainen among four No. 1 picks the last two years hitting ice in Sabres' exhibition opener tonight" »

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 |