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Leino moves closer to goal-less season as Sabres will scratch forward for penultimate game

By John Vogl

BOSTON -- The pain of a goal-less season is one day closer for Ville Leino.

The Sabres' much-maligned forward will be a healthy scratch for this afternoon's game in Boston. John Scott will replace Leino in the lineup.

Leino has played 57 games this season without finding the net. The Sabres' final game is Sunday at home against the New York Islanders.

Buffalo will set an NHL record when the puck drops in TD Garden. Connor Knapp will be the backup goaltender, becoming the ninth netminder this season.

"I’m setting records right away when I get in," said the 23-year-old, who is in the NHL for the first time. "It’s a crazy year, for sure, within the organization, but it’s given a lot of guys opportunities. It’s great just to be here and see what it’s like and how everyone conducts themselves. I’m pretty excited."

To hear from coach Ted Nolan and Knapp, click the audio files below.

Ted Nolan

Connor Knapp

Leino's shootout moment was a reminder of the good times that can be had

By John Vogl

Anyone who says it’s been fun heading to the Sabres’ arena day in, day out since September is either lying or unaware of what fun really is. Players, team employees and season-ticket holders have all bemoaned the drudgery.

It’s why Tuesday night was so ridiculously awesome.

For the first time all season, I drove away from First Niagara Center fully believing I saw the coolest thing in Buffalo that night. There is no place I’d rather have been around 10 p.m. when Ville Leino hopped over the boards for a shootout.

The crowd’s reaction to the most-maligned player on the last-place team was simply amazing. The fans already on their feet cheered louder than they had during the first eight rounds. The rest of the crowd stood to join them, with folks lifting their arms and exhorting their neighbors to get crazy.

When Leino scored – the first time any of his shots had hit the back of the net all season – it was bedlam. Players and coaches laughed, fans exchanged high-fives and memories were made.

It’s what sports is supposed to be about.

“That,” Drew Stafford said in the dressing room, “was the highlight of the season.”

Continue reading "Leino's shootout moment was a reminder of the good times that can be had" »

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.

Sabres' Nolan on Leino: 'It doesn't matter what your skill level is. It's nothing with no will'

By John Vogl

Ville Leino has no goals in 30 games. He takes less than one shot per outing. He seems uninterested some nights.

Add it all up and it results in a fourth-line role and a spot in Ted Nolan's doghouse.

Leino skated at center today with left wing John Scott and right wing Matt Ellis. He'll likely be there Tuesday when the Sabres host Florida.

"We’re looking for people that want to compete and want to work," Nolan said in First Niagara Center. "It doesn’t matter what your skill level is. It’s nothing with no will. We have to get him competing at a certain level. Some days he shows it. Some days he doesn’t.

"You're frustrated with most people that don’t do it on a consistent basis. He’s showed some signs lately."

Leino continues to provide evidence he may be the worst free-agent signing in NHL history. In the third season of his six-year, $27 million deal, Leino has no goals, six assists and a minus-8 rating in 30 games. He has taken just 22 shots, which ranks 575th in the league. He has no points in the last eight outings.

Leino scratched for tonight's game, says of Nolan: 'I'm not exactly sure what he wants out of me'

By Mike Harrington

Ted Nolan has seen the same thing all of you have -- and a little bit more. So the masses are probably happy with the news that goal-less Ville Leino is a healthy scratch tonight against the Ottawa Senators, a first for Leino since Nolan has taken over.

Leino has five assists and a minus-6 rating in 18 games this season. He has four of his assists since Nolan took over but still can't crack the net. Worse yet, he's minus-3 in the last two games and the coach has seen enough. Leino will join Mike Weber in the First Niagara Center press box tonight, with John Scott and Brayden McNabb moving back into the lineup.

"Certain players with a certain skill set, they have to bring it," Nolan said. "And if you're not going to play as well as you can, sometimes it's better off to sit and observe for a while. And hopefully when he gets back in here, he plays the way he's capable of playing."

Leino's ice time increased slightly when Nolan took over from Ron Rolston, who made Leino a healthy scratch Nov. 8 in Anaheim. In the five games prior to Saturday's 3-2 loss in Montreal, Leino played at least 18 minutes in all of them and had some great stints of puck possession. But he played just 13:18 Saturday and was dropped to the fourth line in practice Monday as part of Nolan's shuffing.

"I don't know what to tell you," Leino said. "Just like you said, Back and forth. I'm not exactly sure what he wants out of me."

Continue reading "Leino scratched for tonight's game, says of Nolan: 'I'm not exactly sure what he wants out of me'" »

Sabres' Nolan talks with players, making position changes for Leino, Foligno, Girgensons

By John Vogl

Ted Nolan has a reputation as a coach for whom players would run through a wall. He earns it through motivational techniques and by proving he's with them and believes in them. The latter trait is already shining through.

The Sabres' new coach sat down individually with players to learn about their backgrounds and desires. It's leading to a few changes designed to help the players -- and, by extension, the team -- perform better.

Nolan said erstwhile wingers Ville Leino and Zemgus Girgensons will play center tonight when the Sabres host Toronto in First Niagara Center. Marcus Foligno, who had been put in the middle recently, will move back to the wing.

"We want to put these players where they feel comfortable so there's no excuses," Nolan said after the morning skate, which ended differently than it had under former coach Ron Rolston.

The players congregated in the middle of the ice for post-drill stretching, an exercise done more for camaraderie than for the muscles. Players tapped their sticks when Henrik Tallinder skated to the middle to lead the stretch, and they talked and laughed throughout the maneuvers.

Under Rolston, players quickly went their separate ways at the end and a sense of team was lacking. Guys definitely felt "lighter" today, Nolan said. The coach said Tyler Ennis looked like he had "a 50-pound weight off his back."

Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson and Nikita Zadorov will be the Sabres' healthy scratches. Mike Weber (thumb) will return next week.

To hear from Nolan and his expectations on what's sure to be an emotional return to the Sabres' bench, click the audio file below.

Absence of Leino, Ehrhoff headlines lineup changes for Sabres against Ducks

By John Vogl

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Sabres are making a pair of significant lineup changes, one forced by injury and another by inept play.

Christian Ehrhoff, who suffered a lower-body injury Thursday against Los Angeles, will not play against the Ducks tonight in Anaheim. He will be replaced in the lineup by rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who was scratched during the previous two games.

Forward Ville Leino will take a seat as a healthy scratch. Leino has one assist in seven games and a minus-2 rating. He took his first shot on goal of the season Thursday. He will be replaced by Mikhail Grigorenko, who sat the last three games.

To hear coach Ron Rolston's pregame comments, click the audio file below. (I wouldn't bother if I were you.)

Ron Rolston

Leino could return to Sabres' lineup tonight; Weber out long term with thumb injury

By John Vogl

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Sabres badly need someone who can create offense. Ville Leino has a chance to heed the call.

The forward might play tonight when the Sabres visit Tampa Bay. He said his broken rib, suffered during the season opener, is no longer giving him discomfort.

"I’m feeling good," he said in Tampa Bay Times Forum. "It’s going to be for coaches and me to make the move.

"I’m just excited to go back out there and play hockey. I love playing hockey, so for me it’s just going to be fun to go out there and play, and that’s always when I play the best, too."

Coach Ron Rolston said it's a "possibility" that Leino returns against the Lightning.

"He’s obviously a veteran presence here," Rolston said. "He’s got the ability to create offense and control the puck, so it’ll be a help, but he hasn’t played for a while, too, so it’s going to take him a bit, I’m sure."

The Sabres would need to clear a roster spot to activate Leino, and they could do so by placing defenseman Mike Weber on injured reserve. He has a cast on his left thumb after blocking a shot Friday in Florida and will be out long term, Rolston said.

The only player to take the ice for the optional morning skate was suspended Patrick Kaleta, so it's not clear if Ryan Miller will start in goal as scheduled or if Jhonas Enroth has earned a second straight start after his 44-save performance Friday.

Lather/rinse/repeat: Injured Leino out indefinitely, Larsson to play in home opener

By Mike Harrington

Ville Leino wasn't on the ice for Sabres practice today in First Niagara Center and media antennas understandably went up. A couple players said they didn't know anything (sometimes that's true) but coach Ron Rolston then confirmed suspicions: Leino is injured again and will not play in Friday's home opener against Ottawa.

And, in fact, the cracked rib Leino suffered in the first period Wednesday in Detroit is going to keep him out indefinitely.

"It happened in the first period, probably about 3-4 shifts in," Rolston said. "It was just sore and it seized up overnight and we had it checked."

Leino played 12:36 in the game, registering no shots on goal. He was even on the ice inside the final two minutes so there were no obvious signs of injury. So for those scoring at home, that means Leino has now played nine games since the end of the 2011-12 season; he was limited to eight last year due to hip and lung injuries. 

The Leino injury means Johan Larsson will move into the lineup at center, likely with Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott. Ennis will go back to the wing. Larsson played one game for Minnesota last year and will make his Sabres debut in the home opener.

"He's going to get a good opportunity,' Rolston said. "I like everything about him. His attitude, the way he works, preparation. He's a good detail player. This will give him a good opportunity to play with some good players and show us what he can do. It's a good thing. He's ready."

After Wednesday's 0-for-7 clunker on the power play, the special teams got plenty of attention at today's practice.

"I thought we played slow on the power play," Rolston said. "I think at times I think we have to pass it in the net. We just played slow, didn't move it quick enough and once we got it out top we didn't get things down there."

Said Ennis: "We had golden opportunities there with 5-on-3 with clean ice. Those have to go in."

In other news, Marcus Foligno skated in a non-contact role and said he's targeting Tuesday's visit by Tampa Bay for his return. Zemgus Girgensons confirmed his parents had travel issues coming from Latvia and arrived in Detroit well after Wednesday's game ended, missing his first NHL goal. They were driving to Buffalo today so they could attend Friday's game.

Click below to hear Rolston's session with reporters, which opens with a salute to the Bills and includes plenty of talk about the power play Meltdown in Motown.

Ron Rolston

Sabres' Miller eager to enjoy his 500th game while knowing it won't be his last

By John Vogl

Ryan Miller is eager to make his 500th appearance in a Buffalo Sabres uniform Friday. It's a milestone he's thrilled to reach.

But, he says, it's not a finale.

"There’ll be more hockey games," Miller said today after practice in First Niagara Center. "It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s nice to just be able to talk about it right now. I think I’ve got a lot more hockey in me, so [it's nice] being able to just kind of reflect and enjoy a moment, but it’s going to be another hockey game and I have to prepare and compete. I’m just trying to enjoy that part of it. That’s what I like to do. That’s what I know to do."

Miller will become the 62nd goaltender to play 500 and just the 20th to do it with the same team.

Though Miller will certainly play again, there are questions as to where. He has only one year left on his contract, and the Sabres are rebuilding.

"There’s been a lot of ‘could be last game as a Sabre’ the last few years," Miller said. "I’m just trying to enjoy the moment. It’s going to be my 500th game. I’m going to approach it the same way I’ve approached the other 499: Just put your pads on and try to do your best. See where it kind of goes, go out and have fun, try and make the saves and see where it all shakes out."

Miller's previous start in Buffalo was rocky, with the goaltender getting pulled after allowing four goals in 22 minutes. The fans jeered him, and he gave them a wave during play.

"I’m not mad at the fans," he said. "It’s heat of the moment. You get emotional.

"Some people were giving me some grief, and I just picked my hand up like, ‘OK, I hear ya.’ It wasn’t a screw you. It wasn’t a, ‘I hate you guys.’ It was, ‘You know, I hear ya. Enough. I get it. Just let me try and do what I’ve got to do.’

"I’ve done more than my fair share to go out and prove that I’m part of this community and give back as much as I can. We don’t even talk about all the stuff I try and do to make this feel more like my second home. That’s where I’m going to leave it. I care about the people here. If they’re frustrated with the way we’re playing, I can acknowledge it and we can move on."

The Sabres will again be without Ville Leino when they host the Islanders in the season finale.

"He had some issues with his lung, yes, that he’s dealing with," interim coach Ron Rolston said. "He’s actually a lot better. He’s doing well right now. Obviously, it’s a serious injury, but it wasn’t anything that was major."

Ryan Miller

Sabres determined to make it three straight wins; Vanek likely out again

By John Vogl

The Sabres are aware most people are counting them out. They still have faith in each other.

Buffalo has won two straight heading into Sunday's home game against New Jersey, and the players are eager to finish this season strong.

"It’s a big game for this group just to keep the momentum going," forward Nathan Gerbe said today after practice in First Niagara Center. "In the past in the season, we would lose this game. Now we’ve got to win it.

Continue reading "Sabres determined to make it three straight wins; Vanek likely out again" »

No Sabres on waivers today; Flynn or Foligno likely will return to Rochester to make room for Leino

By John Vogl

Ville Leino will be activated from injured reserve Saturday, and the Sabres need to clear room for him. It appears either Brian Flynn or Marcus Foligno will head to Rochester to open a roster spot.

The Sabres needed to put a player on waivers at noon today in order for him to clear Saturday, but they elected not to waive anyone.

Flynn and Foligno are the only players who can be sent to the Amerks without waivers, so they are the leading candidates to depart. A long-shot option would be to send Mikhail Grigorenko back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but his team has only two games remaining in the regular season.

UPDATE: There have been no discussions between Sabres and Quebec Remparts about sending Grigorenko back, a source told The News this afternoon.

"We’re actually meeting this afternoon on it to figure it out, but it will be solved by tomorrow," interim coach Ron Rolston said today.

Flynn has two goals and three points in six games with the Sabres. Foligno scored twice Tuesday in a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers to bring his totals to three goals and 11 points in 26 games.

Grigorenko, who practiced on the fifth line today with John Scott and suspended Patrick Kaleta, has one goal and five points in 22 games.

Flynn was the last player called up, but he has improved rapidly during his first appearance in the NHL.

"He’s gotten better every game," Rolston said. "He would understand the circumstances, but he’s played exceptionally well for us."

Ron Rolston

Sabres' Sulzer out for rest of season after knee surgery; Leino, Ennis, Miller set to return against Senators

By John Vogl

Alexander Sulzer will miss the rest of the season for the Buffalo Sabres after undergoing successful surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The normal recovery time is a year.

The defenseman was injured Feb. 23 against the Islanders after a collision in the corner.

"He had successful knee surgery and he will be out for the rest of the year," interim coach Ron Rolston said today. "What happens in those injuries – I’m not really a doctor, but I play one on TV – what happens is there’s so much swelling early on that it’s hard to diagnose early how damaged it is until that goes away and until they can actually go in there.

Continue reading "Sabres' Sulzer out for rest of season after knee surgery; Leino, Ennis, Miller set to return against Senators" »

Rolston Report (w/audio): Sekera, Leino likely out Sunday

By Mike Harrington

With Rihanna in First Niagara Center and a massive youth tournament in the Northtown Center, the Sabres had to practice at Cazenovia Rink in South Buffalo this afternoon. (My first time ever in the place in six years on this beat. Not bad. Nice little heaters above the viewing section).  It was a short, quick workout with interim coach Ron Rolston keeping a sharp tempo in the wake of last night's flameout in New Jersey.

And Rolston put on a happy face with reporters after the workout too. He's 3-3-2 since taking over for Lindy Ruff -- and 3-1-2 since dropping his first two games against Toronto and the New York Islanders when he was largely in watch-only mode.

"The last six games we have eight points and we potentially should have had 10 points out of 12," Rolston said, referring to the blown points Sunday in New York and last night in Jersey. "There's certainly things that we want to have back like last night's game but there's also a lot of things that going positive. We're building some good roots in the ground right now for our team to grow and we just have to stay with it."

The suspended Patrick Kaleta and long-term injured Alex Sulzer were not on the ice today as expected. The only missing player was defenseman Andrej Sekera, who Rolston has pretty much ruled out for Sunday's game in Philadelphia after getting hurt in the third period Thursday. Rolston also said no to Ville Leino, who was hoping to make his season debut against his former team.

"We're just trying to get him back into practice and get him quality practice time," Rolston said. "Really grinding, get him in more competitive situations. It will be close. I don't know when. I would doubt Sunday but certainly next week a strong possibility."

Leino didn't know he had been ruled out until John Wawrow of the AP and I talked to him. He said "it really doesn't matter" who he heard it from but, from experience, I can tell you it matters.

"I think I'm at a point in the practice where I can't really push much harder," Leino said. "The next step will be the games. It's been a while. It would be nice to get back in there. [Philly] is always a special spot for me to play against. It would have been fun."

Rolston also responded to Jhonas Enroth's contention that he drank too much coffee during the day and that's why he cramped late in Thursday's game -- and why he may have been unable to get across the crease to stop Patrik Elias' tying goal with 66 seconds left.

"It's part of his growth," Rolston said. "I don't know what the final outcome was on it. Part of his growth as an athlete is making sure he's taking care of himself in that one. I know our staff has been over it and it's just something he has to take care of in the future."

Click below to hear Rolston's session with reporters today.

Ron Rolston

Leino close in return from injury, Enroth close in return from oblivion to crease

By Mike Harrington

It was past 3 a.m. when most of the Sabres hit their beds after the flight home from Florida, so they delayed practice today into the afternoon and it was a short, 25-minute affair at the Northtown Center at Amherst.  A few players stayed on an extra half-hour or so working, largely because there's no morning skate before tomorrow's 3 p.m. game against New Jersey in First Niagara Center.

Thomas Vanek was the only missing healthy player, with interim coach Ron Rolston said it was simply another maintenance day. Jordan Leopold was back at practice, skating on the extra defense pair with T.J.  Brennan. Winger Ville Leino, who has not played this year due to his bad hip, skated hard on his own for nearly 40 minutes prior to practice and then skated in a limited role with his teammates for the first time in a full practice session since Jan. 18.

"Rehab has been good lately, I've been skating the last five days pretty hard and I was going pretty hard today," Leino said. "I felt pretty good. If it's not too sore the next two days, I'll be pretty close to being able to play."

Leino needs to practice fully to get back in the lineup but he said it's possible he could be playing by late next week, perhaps next Thursday in New Jersey or by the March 10 game at his old stomping ground in Philadelphia.

Continue reading "Leino close in return from injury, Enroth close in return from oblivion to crease" »

Leino finally encouraged with injury progress, hopes Sabres' coaching move changes organization's priorities

By John Vogl

The doubts kept growing for Ville Leino. He figured he was destined for hip surgery and would not play a game this season.

Then he skated today, and his outlook changed.

Leino took part in the Sabres' optional morning skate in First Niagara Center, and the winger left the ice feeling better than he has all year.

"I felt surprisingly good," Leino said. "It was definitely positive. We’ll try to build on that, and we’ll see later on today and tomorrow how it recovers from that. It's really definitely felt the best I’ve felt so far.

"To be honest with you, before today I was having my doubts. It’s not like I can say now I’ll play in a couple days or so, but today I really was positive and feel good about it. Now I’m trusting more it will happen soon."

Continue reading "Leino finally encouraged with injury progress, hopes Sabres' coaching move changes organization's priorities" »

Pregame audio: Leino dealing with hip issue

By Mike Harrington

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.

Continue reading "Pregame audio: Leino dealing with hip issue" »

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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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