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Numerology: Stop first-goal flops

By Mike Harrington

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- So what's something to watch for tonight when the Sabres meet the red-hot Blue Jackets? Pay attention to how the Sabres respond if they score first. They've done that in four of the last five games and haven't won any of them.

And as my story in today's editions point out, NHL teams win over 68 percent of the time when they score the first goal -- but the Sabres are a league-worst 3-7-5 when scoring first, for a winning percentage of just .200.

The Sabres scored first just twice in 20 games under Ron Rolston and went 0-1-1. They've opened the scoring 13 times in 29 games under Ted Nolan but are just 3-6-4.

I went into the media stats area and copied the current chart of the teams' records when scoring first below. It shows how good teams flat-out dominate and even mediocre to bad teams (like Nashville, Dallas, Winnipeg and Calgary) have plenty of success when simply taking the 1-0 lead. The Sabres' record is downright abysmal by comparison.

Pretty interesting numbers I'd say.

Team when scoring first GP   

 L   OT Pct        
1 PITTSBURGH 51 26 2   1 .897          
2 ST LOUIS 50 29 1   3 .879          
3 COLORADO 50 26 1   3 .867          
4 NY RANGERS 53 21 4   1 .808          
5 MONTREAL 51 21 3   2 .808          
6 CHICAGO 53 25 0   6 .806          
7 TAMPA BAY 51 20 3   2 .800          
8 BOSTON 49 22 5   1 .786          
9 MINNESOTA 53 20 4   2 .769          
10 SAN JOSE 51 23 2   5 .767          
11 NASHVILLE 52 17 2   4 .739          
12 ANAHEIM 53 22 4   4 .733          
13 CAROLINA 50 13 1   4 .722          
14 TORONTO 53 20 6   3 .690          
15 LOS ANGELES 52 22 7   4 .667          
16 OTTAWA 51 14 4   3 .667          
17 COLUMBUS 50 20 7   3 .667          
18 PHILADELPHIA 52 16 5   4 .640          
19 FLORIDA 51 12 4   3 .632          
20 PHOENIX 50 17 7   3 .630          
21 NEW JERSEY 52 18 5   6 .621          
22 VANCOUVER 52 16 6   4 .615          
23 WASHINGTON 51 14 8   1 .609          
24 WINNIPEG 52 13 7   2 .591          
25 DALLAS 51 15 9   3 .556          
26 DETROIT 51 15 6   6 .556          
27 CALGARY 51 10 6   3 .526          
28 NY ISLANDERS 53 9 7   5 .429          
29 EDMONTON 52 8 9   4 .381          
30 BUFFALO 49 3 7   5 .200

Big goalie matchup in the offing as Columbus hits town

By Mike Harrington

The bulk of the attention will be in goal tonight in First Niagara Center when the Sabres host the streaking Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ryan Miller will start for the Sabres. He is  seventh in the NHL with a .927 save percentage that is just shy of the .929 he posted in his 2010 Vezina Trophy season.

The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, did not skate here today in the wake of last night's 5-1 home win over Washington. I thought they had a decision to make between red-hot starter Sergei Bobrovsky or backup Curtis McElhinney, even though he is  0-2 in his career against the Sabres with a 4.29 goals-against average and .879 save percentage.

But shortly after noon, the team tweeted that Bobrovsky -- the reigning Vezina winner -- will be back in net tonight. The Jackets don't play again until Tuesday and Bobrovsky is 6-0, 1.37 and .955 in his last six starts so you can see that reasoning. (An aside: If you don't play your backup against the offensively-challenged Sabres, when are you going to play him?)

Continue reading "Big goalie matchup in the offing as Columbus hits town" »

The quest for goals continues: Enroth in net vs. Flyers

By Mike Harrington

I'm sure the folks at NBC Sports Network, which will be sending tonight's Sabres-Flyers game nationwide, aren't happy to hear this. Probably some Sabres season ticket-holders aren't happy either but the schedule is the schedule. With the team in the midst of three games in four nights, Ryan Miller will not be in goal tonight.

Jhonas Enroth gets the start against Philadelphia and will be opposed by Steve Mason. Miller, of course, owns the Toronto Maple Leafs (with a career-best 31-15-3 record and four shutouts against them), so he will play tomorrow night in Air Canada Centre. 

The narrative thus switches away from Miller's continued white-hot play to whether or not the Sabres will ever score any goals for Enroth. Be sure to double back to my post from Friday for more on the topic, but the upshot is this: Enroth is 0-2-2 in his last four starts despite a glossy 1.97 GAA and .935 save percentage in that span because the team has scored just three goals in those games.

Even worse, Enroth is 1-8-4 on the season largely because the team has scored just 17 goals in his 13 starts.

"He's been unlucky, been playing great all year," Ville Leino said today. "Certainly guys are on his side here and want to give him a win. We want to try to be extra sure we work hard today, defend well in front of him. But saying that, the best defense can be a good offense and scoring goals by creating offensive zone time."

Continue reading "The quest for goals continues: Enroth in net vs. Flyers" »

A peek inside: All quiet in First Niagara Center

FNC empty
No game tonight: First Niagara Center is empty Tuesday as the Sabres-Hurricanes game was postponed (Harry Scull Jr/Buffalo News).

Update on game status: Decision coming mid-afternoon

The Sabres tweeted this picture of the French Connection statue outside First Niagara Center.

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres have just put out a series of three tweets that reads as follows:

"On status of tonight's game: "We are still gathering all the pertinent information regarding the weather forecast for later today. We will make a final decision about tonight’s game vs. Carolina Hurricanes by mid-afternoon. We have been in contact with the City of Buffalo, Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL office regarding the status of the game."

The Sabres canceled their morning skate, largely so the players didn't have to travel the distance downtown, return to their homes and then come back. The Hurricanes, who are staying at the Embassy Suites downtown, went ahead with their morning skate as usual beginning at around 11:30.

As I wrote earlier today, the game can't be moved to tomorrow because the Hurricanes are already scheduled to play Thursday and Friday and NHL rules prohibit three games in three days.

Konopka: 'You always kind of dreamt of being a Buffalo Sabre'

By Mike Harrington

Zenon Konopka is going on mostly adrenalin and little sleep after a travel nightmare from Minnesota through both New York City airports but that's OK. This is a homecoming of sorts for the newest Sabre, who grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils in First Niagara Center will take him back to his childhood days watching the Sabres in the Aud.

"Growing up here watching the Sabres in the Auditorium was just amazing," Konopka said today. "You always kind of dreamt of being a Buffalo Sabre. My mom was born in Buffalo. My aunt's here, grandparents were here. I'm looking forward to being part of the community and team and being part of the solution."

In case you missed John Vogl's post this morning, Konopka made it to LaGuardia Airport but the only flight left to Buffalo Friday night was delayed four hours and then canceled -- and he was told the next available flight here was Sunday. So another flight was found at JFK Airport and Konopka went through a comical search for his bags that stretched until 3 a.m., slept an hour at a nearby hotel, went back to the airport and slept on a plane stuck on the tarmac for two hours before landing here.

(Social media alerts: Konopka's Twitter and Instagram feeds are hilarious must-follows)

Konopka arrived during the Sabres' optional morning skate and came on the ice for a few minutes near the end to simply loosen up. Coach Ted Nolan said Konopka will center John Scott and Matt Ellis tonight. Konopka was waived by Minnesota on Thursday while the Sabres were in town because Wild goalie Josh Harding, who is battling multiple sclerosis, was ill and the team needed to call up backup Darcy Kuemper. Konopka instantly thought a claim by the last-place Sabres could happen.

Continue reading "Konopka: 'You always kind of dreamt of being a Buffalo Sabre'" »

Tallinder out 1-2 weeks, Sulzer in vs. Jets

By Mike Harrington

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Good evening and Happy New Year from the True North. If you've been following #QuestforThePeg today on my Twitter feed, you'll know I'm a little shocked to be sitting inside the MTS Centre for tonight's Sabres-Jets game.  But I made it a full 10 minutes before Ted Nolan's pregame briefing with reporters after about 28 hours of rigamarole to get here. All part of the gig and part of the quest!.

And Nolan had a big piece of news: Veteran defenseman Henrik Tallinder is not playing tonight and could miss 1-2 weeks with what the coach said was an "upper middle" body injury. Nolan said he thinks Tallinder got hurt on a hit from Washington's Aaron Volpatti midway through the first period Sunday. It was a tough hit, with Tallinder going into the turnbuckle, the rounded part of the glass by the Caps' bench. You wonder if upper middle means ribs.

Tallinder has two goals and four assists in 34 games while posting a minus-12 rating and averaging 19:20 a game. (I hate plus-minus this year for the Sabres. This simply don't score. Hard to gauge anybody).

With Tallinder out, Alexander Sulzer will be back in the lineup. We'll see in warmups what Nolan does for pairings. Nolan said Tallinder practiced yesterday at Riverside Rink but was unable to play and did not come on this road trip.

"Somebody goes down, everybody has to give a little bit more," Nolan said. "Especially with Tallinder. He's been playing really good for us. We're gonna miss him but we've got to play."

Continue reading "Tallinder out 1-2 weeks, Sulzer in vs. Jets" »

Against Caps, same lineup will have a key goal: Stay out of the box

By Mike Harrington

In his pregame briefing with reporters this afternoon,  interim coach Ted Nolan said he will use the same lineup as he did in Friday's shootout loss in Toronto and will start off at least with the same lines. That means Alexander Sulzer will again be a healthy scratch.

"To make a change just to make a change doesn't seem right," Nolan said. "Defense wasn't our problem the last game."

Nolan initially hedged when asked who would be in goal and then said Ryan Miller "probably" will play. But the look on his face was one of I-dont-really-want-to-say-but-I-just-did.

The Capitals have the NHL's top power play at 25.9 percent, no surprise when the lineup includes NHL goal leader Alexander Ovechkin and his league-high 12 goals on the power play. The Sabres are just 20th on the penalty kill and 12th at home. Their first priority, Nolan said, is simply to not take penalties at all.

The Sabres have taken 11 penalties in the last three games, killing nine. The Caps, conversely, have scored a power-play goal in seven of their last eight games.

"If we are going to take a penalty, if there's such a thing as a good penalty, we have to make sure it's a good one," Nolan said. "Not one of those lazy ones that are 200 feet from our end, in the offensive zone or neutral zone. It has to be a good penalty for us to have the spirit to kill it off."

The Sabres also have to figure out their second-period struggles. When Nolan arrived, they had been outscored, 27-3, in the first period but that deficit is just 10-8 in his 18 games. In the middle frame, however, the Sabres have been outscored, 21-9, under Nolan when their deficit was just one (18-17) under Ron Rolston.

The Sabres' 2-0 lead went poof-in-the-Toronto night in the second period Friday as the Maple Leafs scored all three of their goals. 

"We had we thought that problem fixed and then all of a sudden the last game, there's no answer for the way we played," Nolan said. "There was just one mistake after another mistake, one turnover after another turnover. It was just very uncharacteristic of the way we've been playing lately."

More bad news for the Sabres: Ovechkin has gone scoreless the last two games -- and hasn't failed to score in three straight all season. He had 12 shots on goal over the last two games so he certainly seems overdue.

Tonight's biggest opponent: Coyotes or the flu?

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres have a flu bug affecting several players, so we're going to have to wait until tonight's warmups to really know who is taking the ice against the Phoenix Coyotes in First Niagara Center. Interim coach Ted Nolan said 4-5 players called in this morning and said they would not be attending the morning skate. Here's what we do know:

1). Defenseman Mark Pysyk and forward Johan Larsson have been recalled from Rochester and Nolan said both will be in the lineup tonight. Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel has been returned to the Amerks while forward Kevin Porter, who was injured Saturday in Boston, has been placed on injured reserve. Nolan said Cody Hodgson remains out.

2). Look for Ryan Miller in goal tonight. Miller is 4-0 with an 0.99 GAA and .964 save percentage in four career starts against the Coyotes. He will be opposed by Coyotes workhorse Mike Smith, who will start his 31st game of the season, one off the NHL high. Smith (15-8-6, 2.87, .913) leads the NHL in shots against (968) and saves (884).

3). Who was missing this morning? Newcomer Linus Omark was the lone player Nolan confirmed was among the flu-stricken. Also not on the ice were Alexander Sulzer, Ville Leino, Henrik Tallinder and Mike Weber. 

The Sabres could be a little thin for this game. They can put John Scott in the lineup but can't make any other recalls from Rochester because the Amerks left this morning for Switzerland to play in the Spengler Cup tournament that opens on Thursday.

"I kind of felt something was up with the team because we weren't as strong," Nolan said, referring to Saturday's loss in Boston. "We're not the strongest team but at least we're starting to battle for pucks but I thought we were knocked off them pretty easy. They didn't have that certain jump. We had it for certain periods of time but we didn't have it as consistently as we have the last three or four games. I kind of felt something was up."

4). The Coyotes, meanwhile, have a lineup that features South Buffalo native and former Sabre Tim Kennedy. He has one goal and five assists in 20 games but is playing big minutes on a line with Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal.   Veteran Shane Doan remains out while battling Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Click below to hear Nolan's pregame session with the media:

Ted Nolan

Pregame chatter: Kaleta done for the season (ACL), was slated to return to NHL next week

By Mike Harrington

NEWARK, N.J. -- Patrick Kaleta's season is over, ending Friday night in Rochester when he suffered a torn ACL to his right knee during the Amerks' win over Lake Erie. That's the word from a Buffalo News source and coach Ted Nolan pretty much confirmed that prior to tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils while adding this bombshell:

Kaleta was rejoining the Sabres for practice on Monday and was likely going to be in the lineup for their next game, Thursday in First Niagara Center against the New York Rangers.

Obviously, that won't happen now.

"It doesn't look good and that's usually the case right there," Nolan said when asked if he could confirm the injury was season-ending. "We're hoping it's not but it possibly could be."

As we posted earlier today, Kaleta was injured when he somersaulted over Lake Erie goalie Calvin Pickard while cutting in on the goal and his knee struck the crossbar. The injury came late in Rochester's 5-3 win and Kaleta had to be helped off the ice, putting no weight on his leg.

Continue reading "Pregame chatter: Kaleta done for the season (ACL), was slated to return to NHL next week" »

Leaf leftovers as Sabres prepare to deal with the Devils

By Mike Harrington

NEWARK, N.J. -- In the wake of Friday's 3-2 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres are staying off the ice this morning and meeting in their hotel prior to tonight's game in the Prudential Center against the New Jersey Devils. 

Jhonas Enroth is expected to be in goal and Mikhail Grigorenko and Brayden McNabb are expected to return to the lineup after serving as healthy scratches Friday night. It's possible Cody McCormick could return to the lineup as well. We'll have to wait until interim coach Ted Nolan's update around 5 p.m. for confirmation of the moves.

Tonight's game is the first of three this year against New Jersey. The Devils won two of three meetings last year -- with all the games going to shootouts.

For entertainment value, there's just about nothing like a Sabres-Leafs game in Buffalo and last night was no exception. The crowd, a pro-Leafs one, was rocking all night but the Sabres fans responded in OT to Christian Ehrhoff's game-winner, which produced a shower of beer cans to the ice from the Toronto faithful.

The Sabres were having some pretty good chuckles in their locker room over that whole scene. Captain Steve Ott captured it hysterically with this take-that tweet (and look at the numbers of RTs and favorites he's getting!)

Incredibly enough, the Ehrhoff shot went right through the skate of Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson before snaking through goaltender James Reimer. Seriously. Check it out.

It was the Sabres' first overtime winner since Ott's power-play goal on March 19 in Montreal -- and their first OT winner at home since Derek Roy's power-play goal beat the Leafs on April 3, 2012, the night that Jordan Leopold score the tying goal in the final two minutes with that memorable jam-scramble in front of the Leafs net. The Sabres lost their only previous home overtime this season to Tampa Bay and were 0-2 in home-deciding OT goals in the lockout-shortened campaign.

Leafs have their own problems heading into tonight's game

By Mike Harrington

The HBO cameras are going to start to follow the Toronto Maple Leafs around next week for "24/7," the acclaimed show that chronicles the two teams playing in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic. The cameras may get an eyeful if the Leafs continue to be as bad as they've been lately.

After a 10-4 October, the Leafs are just 4-5-2 in November. They've given up 11 goals in the last two games, a 6-0 home disaster against Columbus and Wednesday's 6-5 shootout loss at Pittsburgh. They're 1-2-1 in the last four games, and the lone win was a shootout victory over Washington that saw goaltender James Reimer make 49 saves.

Reimer will be in goal tonight in First Niagara Center and figures to get plenty of work. 

The Leafs lead the NHL with 36.1 shots on goal against per game (the Sabres are 29th at 36.0). They've outshot their opponents just four times in 25 games (the Sabres have done it three times in 26). This is a team, remember, that had Boston beaten in Game Seven of the first round of the playoffs last year until blowing a three-goal lead and losing in overtime.

In Wednesday's game, the Leafs blew a 4-1 lead and were outshot 19-0 over the third period and overtime. Yes, 19 to zip. 

"I don't think you need rocket science to figure out that if you continue to give up five and six goals, you're not going to get many points," said coach Randy Carlyle. "We have to buckle down definitely in that area and get our defensive game going to a higer level. Part of that is to create a little more in the offensive zone as far as time in there."

Continue reading "Leafs have their own problems heading into tonight's game" »

Wings lose Datsyuk but regain Alfredsson for today's visit to FNC

Pavel Datsyuk works the puck Saturday against Ottawa. (AP Photo)

By Mike Harrington

The Detroit Red Wings will be without their top goal scorer for today's 5 p.m. meeting with the Sabres in First Niagara Center as Pavel Datsyuk was left home with a possible concussion after taking an elbow to the head late in Saturday's 4-2 loss to Ottawa.

Datsyuk has a team-leading 12 goals and is second on the team in scoring with 23 points. The three-time Selke Award winner and four-time recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy was hit by Ottawa defenseman Jared Cowen with 7:48 to play, a clear elbow that television replays caught but neither official did.

Although no penalty was called on the play, Cowen is almost certain to hear from NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan about the play. Check it out here (it's near the top of the screen on the live run).

With Datsyuk out, Detroit general manager Ken Holland said early this morning before boarding the team plane to Buffalo that veteran Daniel Alfredsson will now return to the Detroit lineup. Alfredsson has missed the last five games with a groin pull. He has 42 goals and 84 points in 90 games against Buffalo, with the goal total tied with Jaromir Jagr for the most all-time vs. the Sabres and Alfredsson's most against any team.

Forward Todd Bertuzzi (back) also stayed home and will not play today. The Red Wings are also missing young defense star Danny DeKeyser, who suffered a shoulder injury last week.

The Wings have been a big disappointment of late, going just 1-3-5 in their last nine games and 10-7-7 overall. This will be their third game in four nights.

Grigorenko gets first chance under Nolan; Three other young players will sit vs. Flyers

By Mike Harrington

PHILADELPHIA -- There weren't many tea leaves to be read from the Sabres' optional pregame skate today in Wells Fargo Center until interim coach Ted Nolan peeled back some layers to his thinking and revealed how he's reshaping the lineup for tonight's game against the Flyers.

---As Nolan said yesterday, Rochester callups Luke Adam and Brayden McNabb are in.
---Nolan said 21-year-old defenseman Mark Pysyk and young wingers Corey Tropp (24) and  Brian (25) will sit.  Pysyk and Flynn had played all 23 games this season
---And then the bombshell:  Mikhail Grigorenko is back in the lineup and will make his debut under Nolan tonight.

Grigorenko, whose conditioning assignment to Rochester was nixed yesterday by the NHL, was not expected to play tonight. But Nolan said today the 19-year-old was insistent that he was ready and able, a stance he took with reporters yesterday as well when he asked about the illness that he said had hindered  some of his conditioning.

"We're going to give him a good look," Nolan said "You have to give him some credit. He's the one who said, 'You haven't seen me play yet.' He said it to us three or four times yesterday. We'll see him play and see what he has. He's a young, up-and-coming player who's going to be important in our organization. We have to be sure we put him in a good place and see what he has."

Grigorenko has two goals,  both coming Nov. 8 in Anaheim, and an assist in 15 games. He confounded both Lindy Ruff and Ron Rolston with his lack of grit on the ice and that's certainly something Nolan will be watching for tonight. 

What if it's more of the same in that area?

"It's the same thing raising your children at home," Nolan said. "You ask them to do something and if they don't do it, you take certain things away. Here, it's ice time. If he doesn't compete, he won't get out there too much."

Nolan had  praise for Pysyk, Flynn and Tropp and said they simply need to work on their consistency. Pysyk was minus-3 in Tuesday's loss to St. Louis and Tropp was minus-2. Both are minus-8 for the season.

"Sometimes it's good to sit back. It's nothing to do with their lack of ability," Nolan said. "It's just the maturity has to come at the right time. They'll get back in the lineup."

Click below to hear more of Nolan's thoughts from early this afternoon.

Ted Nolan

Nolan's goal tonight: More of the same vs. Leafs

By Mike Harrington

TORONTO -- The Sabres have won two in a row for the first time this season. They go for three straight tonight in the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ted Nolan's first goal is to see consistency from his new club.

"That's exactly what good hockey teams do," Nolan said during his pregame briefing with reporters in the 5 o'clock hour. "They've got to learn to play at a consistent level. ... Even with my son who plays in LA, that's one thing I always try to remind him. You can't do it one game, one period. You have to do it on a consistent basis, game-in and game-out."

The Sabres had a much better start than normal in Friday's scoreless first period, holding the Leafs to just five shots on goal.

"When you compete and you chase people and get on top of them real quick, that's what usually happens," Nolan said. "You give a bad player enough time, he's going to make a good play. We have to make sure we get on top of people with the puck. Back-pressure them. ... As I mentioned last night, I wasn't here before. I'm here now. We had a good start last night and I'm expecting another good start tonight."

As noted earlier today, the Sabres will use the same lineup  as last night -- which means Ryan Miller in goal and Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson and Nikita Zadorov as healthy scratches and Mike Weber as an injured scratch. Nolan said he's not a winning-lineup-stays-coach but circumstances dictate it tonight.

"If you get two points, it doesn't mean everybody played well," Nolan said. "There's going to be certain people who don't. Right now I have to rely on what we had last night and see it again."

Nolan said defenseman Henrik Tallinder has been added as an alternate captain, joining Christian Ehrhoff. The Sabres had been playing with one 'A' since Thomas Vanek was traded. Tallinder wore the A in Anaheim when Ehrhoff was out with an injury.

Said Nolan of Tallinder: "From the first time I said hello to him, you could look in the guy's eyes and say this guy sincerely cares."

Click the audio file below to hear Nolan's complete comments, including thoughts on Drew Stafford, Ville Leino and the work of his assistant coaches last night.

Ted Nolan

Turning over a new Leaf: All the coverage as a new era starts with a toppling of Toronto

By Mike Harrington

Quite a Friday night at First Niagara Center as the Sabres beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-1, in a smashing debut of the Pat LaFontaine-Ted Nolan era. The teams will go at it again tonight at 7 in Air Canada Centre, with only a couple of Sabres expected to skate this morning. Nolan and players will be available in the 5 p.m. hour and we'll have updates then.

As for last night's game, I actually forgot this point: The Sabres are on their first two-game winning streak of the season! The purge of Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston, remember, came after a win, Tuesday's shootout escape over the Los Angeles Kings.

Continue reading "Turning over a new Leaf: All the coverage as a new era starts with a toppling of Toronto" »

On the air on NHL Network

Watch News Sports Reporter Mike Harrington's appearance tonight on "NHL Live" on the NHL Network in advance of the Sabres-Leafs game.

Continue reading "On the air on NHL Network" »

To end home futility, history provides fighting chance vs. Kings

By Mike Harrington

When I wrote today's Sabres story on their struggles in First Niagara Center, I didn't know the startling fact that I updated the Web version with early this morning: A loss tonight against the Los Angeles Kings makes the Sabres the second team in NHL history to go winless at home in their first 10 games of a season. Jeez. 

The Sabres are currently 0-8-1 and the record for worst NHL start at home was set by the 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins, who went 0-9-2 (that's two ties) at then-Civic Arena. They finally won a game on Nov. 23, 1983 at the Igloo by beating New Jersey, 4-1.

That Pittsburgh team finished 16-58-6 and their 38 points was last overall in the NHL. It's widely believed the club tanked its season to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 draft -- which it turned into Mario Lemieux. Hmmm. Sounds like a familiar strategy, even though there's no Lemieux in the offing at next June's league meeting in Philadelphia.

Continue reading "To end home futility, history provides fighting chance vs. Kings" »

Ins (Sulzer, Grigorenko, Scott) and outs (Weber, Porter, Kaleta) of tonight's lineup

Ron Rolston's pregame session with reporters today in Chicago (

By Mike Harrington

CHICAGO -- The Sabres had an optional pregame skate today at the United Center but there was no shortage of items to glean from it as they try to get their first win of the season tonight against the Stanley Cup champions. Ryan Miller will be in goal and will likely meet Corey Crawford, as Nikolai Khabibulin played here in last night's 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.

On defense, as we gleaned from practice on Friday, Alexander Sulzer is back in the lineup and Mike Weber and his NHL-worst minus-8 rating will be in the press box. The big surprise is that Mikhail Grigorenko gets back on the ice after a one-game benching and Kevin Porter will sit.

"It's not a guarantee to be in the lineup," coach Ron Rolston said of Grigorenko. "That gave him some perspective on watching. Now he gets to get back into the lineup and try to improve."

"The game I watched from the stands I learned a couple things," Grigorenko said. "... taking better care of the puck, try to make better passes so we can possess the puck more. If our team has more possessions, it can create some offense."

The Weber change was obviously self-explanatory and Rolston said sitting Porter was simply a commitment to Grigorenko and Johan Larsson and not any statement on Porter's play to date, although he's been pointless with a minus-3 rating thus far.

Sulzer, who was put on waivers at the end of training camp and spent a game in Rochester, was thrilled to get another chance with the Sabres.

"It's pretty much like Groundhog Day for me," Sulzer said. "I've been through it for the last five years. It's not that I'm not putting pressure on myself but I know how to handle it. It's part of the situation I'm in. I'm in the NHL. There's no reason to complain."

John Scott will be in for the suspended Patrick Kaleta, who has an NHL hearing Tuesday and will be out tonight and Monday against Minnesota -- and probably more games after that for his head shot to Columbus' Jack Johnson on Thursday.

"He's been through this before. He's got to be extra careful just because of his past history," Rolston said. "We'll see what happens here come Tuesday and go from there. He's going to have to deal with it.

"I wasn't even sure where the play was. We did have to go back and look at it. He plays a physical game. ... The league is putting a big emphasis on anything that has contact with the head. Once you saw it, you knew they were going to look at it right away and make a decision on it."

Wednesday's practice hints hold: Grigorenko out tonight, Miller in

By Mike Harrington

It started to be crystal clear in practice Wednesday which way Ron Rolston was leaning regarding Mikhail Grigorenko, as John Vogl reported in Thursday's editions. And the coach followed through with the talk today. Grigorenko will be a healthy scratch for tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Johan Larsson will take his spot between Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Flynn.

"We go back to the impact he has on a game," Rolston said of Grigorenko. "Right now he just needs to pick up his urgency in his game. There hasn't been a lot of urgency to it. At times there has been, but not consistent enough."

Grigorenko has no points and is minus-1 in the first four games, and his ice time barely exceeded eight minutes in Tuesday's overtime loss to Tampa Bay. The 19-year-old has one goal and five points in 29 NHL games the last two seasons.

Larsson was scratched for the opener in Detroit, struggled while playing just 6:55 in the home opener against Ottawa, was better while playing 9:09 in Pittsburgh and then was scratched again Tuesday. Rolston has been doing some heavy video work with him on defensive zone and away-from-the-puck positioning.

"It's the small details away from the puck, positioning and everything," Larsson said. "It's coming more and more. You have to be in the right spots at the right times. I'm watching a lot of video and learning from that. It shouldn't be that big a problem right now. "

Larsson said he felt more confident against Pittsburgh and wants to maintain better possession of the puck rather than dump it away too quickly.

"I like his competitve nature and what he brings," Rolston said. "He'll battle. He's a smart player. He's in good position all the time. He'll continue to make those adjustments."

The Blue Jackets are 1-1 and have not played since Saturday's shootout win over the New York Islanders. Sergei Bobrovsky is slated to be in goal tonight and Rolston said Ryan Miller is over his groin problems and should return.

John Scott and Alexander Sulzer join Grigorenko as tonight's healthy scratches. Rolston said defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who skated today in a non-contact role, could play Saturday in Chicago. Tallinder said if he's not ready for that game, he'd almost certainly be ready for Monday's Jason Pominville homecoming game against Minnesota.

Click below to hear Rolston's session with the media today.

Ron Rolston

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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.

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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.

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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.

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