Struggling Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers got the chance to restart his season Tuesday in Scotiabank Place, returning to the lineup against the Ottawa Senators after sitting out the previous two games as a healthy scratch.
“It feels good to be back in but I don’t know if it’s a relief,” Myers said before the game. “I don’t come here just to get in the lineup. I need to put together a solid defensive game and just build it from there.”
Myers has been a defensive disaster for the Sabres thus far, and his minus-9 rating in 11 games entering the game was second-worst in the NHL (ahead of only the minus-10 posted by Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty).
Myers had just one point, a goal in the season opener against Philadelphia. In his Calder Trophy-winning season of 2009-10, Myers had 11 goals, 48 points and a plus-13 rating. He started slowly last year as well and was a healthy scratch for a game in Montreal but responded positively to that move and the Sabres are hoping it can have a similar effect this time.
“Sitting out gives you the opportunity to watch the scope of the game from upstairs,” coach Lindy Ruff said with a growing smirk. “It’s an easy game from upstairs. Just ask all you guys.
“You see the mistakes, you see the plays that were available and you wonder why they didn’t make them. You see the easy outs. I’ve had a couple really good meetings with him trying to get his head in the right place and ready to play.”
Myers’ struggles have been a flash-point issue for the Sabres, especially since he’s in the first year of his seven-year, $38.5 million contract signed in September 2011. As part of the deal, Myers collected a $10 million signing bonus July 1.
“I’ve tried to work as hard as I can using the time I have to try to mentally get prepared and that’s the biggest thing,” Myers said. “I don’t think at this point it’s anything physical. It’s just getting my head straight. ... It’s amazing how much this game is upstairs. It’s just a matter of putting my mind to it to respond like I did last year. This year, it’s starting from ground zero. ... Just let it build from there.”
The Sabres scratched Alexander Sulzer and T.J. Brennan on defense and tough guy John Scott up front. It was Scott’s first scratch of the season. Sulzer leads the team’s defensemen with three goals – more than all but four of the forwards – and is a plus-4 but was scratched for the second time.
“Some of it is based on what we’re looking at in the game,” Ruff said, referring to matchups against the Ottawa forwards. “Some of it is based on mobility of our defense and how they get involved.”
Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko returned to the lineup after sitting out Sunday’s loss to Boston as a healthy scratch, his first absence of the season.
The Sabres are finally getting a break from the crazily packed NHL schedule. Their next game is Friday against Boston in First Niagara Center. Buffalo hasn’t had a two-day break since Jan. 22-23.
Counting Tuesday’s game, only the Sabres and Flyers have played 14 times – and the Sabres did it in 24 days. The Sabres have already played four sets of back-to-back games but don’t have another until March 2-3.
“I told the team we’ve gone through a very demanding stretch,” Ruff said. “Advantageously, we don’t play a back-to-back until next month. It’s play, practice, play, practice, take a day [off]. It’s starting to lean in our favor but we knew the schedule was tough.”
Ruff on telling veteran center Matt Ellis he was being put on waivers: “It’s not easy. Matt is a first-class citizen, a great guy and a hard worker. But at times like this, you’ve got to make hard decisions. We got to keep making them.”
Ellis made his debut with the Amerks this season in Tuesday’s 4-1 win at Lake Erie, a game that started at 10:45 a.m in Cleveland. He did not have a point. Phil Varone had two goals and two assists for the Amerks while Williamsville native David Leggio made 31 saves.
Sabres center Jochen Hecht played in his 800th career game and defenseman Jordan Leopold played in No. 600. Hecht is the 66th active NHL player to reach 800; he has played 580 with Buffalo while Leopold played in No. 164 with the Sabres. ... Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of Thomas Vanek’s first career hat trick and it came here in a 5-1 win over the Senators on Feb. 12, 2008. ... How unusual was Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders? The Sabres were outshot, 43-15, and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time they had won a game when they were minus-28 or worse in shots on goal since a 3-1 win at Quebec on March 29, 1988. The Sabres were outshot that night, 47-19, as Daren Puppa made 46 saves.