The Buffalo Sabres continue to be the NHL’s worst faceoff team by a considerable margin so they spent a good deal of time on that area at practice Wednesday in First Niagara Center. But coach Lindy Ruff added a twist to the drill: He let the offensive team win the draw and forced the defensive team into quick coverage mode.
If they didn’t cover the shooters in time, they did push-ups on the ice. And that included the goalies. Jason Pominville quickly fired shots off the first two draws and a team that included Ryan Miller dropped and hit the ice.
“If you lose the draw clean, my point today was it’s almost impossible to get in the shot lane,” Ruff said. “Pommer proved it on the first one. Then he proved it again on the second one. ... The center man can’t lose it clean at all costs because it doesn’t give me that one second to get in the lane.”
The Sabres got destroyed in the circle in Tuesday night’s loss at Ottawa, 37-15, and are winning just 41.3 percent of their draws for the season, a stat compounded by their troubles on assignments. No other team entered Wednesday at less than 45.3 and 20 teams had won at least 49 percent.
“We chased the puck 70 percent of the time because we didn’t win a draw,” Ruff said. “That’s a big deficit to come back from. We get it 30 percent of the time, they get it 70 percent. That’s hard hockey. Our faceoffs have to get better.”
Cody Hodgson went 8-10 on draws against the Senators – while the rest of the team was just 7-27. Steve Ott leads the team at 48.8 percent.
“You’re always putting yourself in a hard position when you’re chasing the puck after you lose a draw,” said Ott, who shifts from wing to take many faceoffs. “... It can save you 15-20 seconds at the start of a shift. When you’re constantly chasing, by the third period you’re going to be a lot more tired.”
The Sabres were scheduled to have Wednesday off but Ruff asked the team’s leadership to change the schedule and practice lasted nearly an hour.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement between the league and NHL Players Association, teams are to get two days off a month at home and two on the road and they must be planned in advance. They cannot be changed “absent compelling circumstances,” and it’s assumed that a mere slump does not qualify.
“We don’t need a day off right now,” Ott said. “We need to focus on things that will improve our club. Collectively we all wanted to come in and skate and get something out of today.”
“For us, it’s education. I don’t think it’s a punishment day,” said Miller.
In an email to The News Wednesday evening, NHLPA director of communications Jonathan Weatherdon said the group is reviewing the matter.
General Manager Darcy Regier said the team could conceivably send struggling backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth on a conditioning assignment to Rochester to get some work but is not currently planning that move. Enroth is 0-2 this season and his loss Tuesday in Ottawa kept him winless since Nov. 26, 2011.
“We will keep him here to work with goaltending coach Jim Corsi,” Regier said. “We know Jhonas can play and we saw how he has played in the past. His save percentage last season was very respectable [.917] and we still think he’s a good young goalie.”
The Sabres had just five defensemen in practice Wednesday as Mike Weber sat out for a maintenance day while Christian Ehrhoff (undetermined muscle), Andrej Sekera (ankle) and Robyn Regehr (ankle) also sat. Ruff said Ehrhoff is doubtful for tonight’s game against Montreal. Regehr and Sekera are not ready to play either.
Patrick Kaleta returned to practice after suffering his latest neck injury last week against Toronto and being hospitalized overnight. He could play this weekend.
Asked if he was ready to go, Kaleta said, “That’s a bad question because I’m available whenever the coaches need me, no matter what the case may be. ... If they need me and think I benefit the lineup, I’ll do whatever it takes.”