TORONTO – A center on the third line, a central figure on the game’s controversial play, Kevin Porter had an interesting night in his debut with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night in Air Canada Centre.
Officially promoted earlier in the day, the Rochester Amerks captain drew a controversial goaltender interference penalty in the second period that wiped out a go-ahead tally by Steve Ott in the Sabres’ 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens slid to his right beyond the crease and was bumped by Porter, who was being pushed by defenseman Mark Fraser. The puck ricocheted into the right circle, where Ott swatted it out of the air to seemingly put the Sabres in front, 2-1, with 12:52 left in the period.
But referee Dave Jackson quickly wiped out the goal, bringing howls of protest from the Sabres bench and an outstretched-arms gesture from interim coach Ron Rolston. The protest grew when Porter was penalized.
“I’m going hard to the net and trying to avoid him but you get pushed in and get a little piece of him,” Porter said. “I guess I have to stay away from him a little bit more. I was surprised. I was pretty excited by the goal and then to have it taken back, I was a little bit surprised.
“That would have been a big goal. It wasn’t a great penalty. But I’m going to keep going to the net and going hard to the net.”
Rolston said he had not reviewed the play but was disappointed in the “double whammy” of the goal not counting and the penalty being drawn.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller agreed with the notion Scrivens slid into the play.
“I don’t know too many guys that get that call right now,” Miller said. “I wouldn’t even hope for that call. If I’m that far out and I’m leaning into a play, I expect to have to recover. We didn’t get that benefit.”
Porter played 14 minutes, 34 seconds in the game, taking over third-line duties from Jochen Hecht between Ott and Nathan Gerbe. The 26-year-old had played 165 NHL games with Phoenix and Colorado and led the Amerks this year with 44 points in 48 games.
Oddly enough, his last NHL game was on March 14, 2012 for Colorado in a 5-4 shootout win over the Sabres in First Niagara Center.
“The first shift tonight I was a little bit nervous but playing with those guys made it easier,” Porter said. “They talk and help me out so it was a pretty easy transition.”
Leafs forward and former Sabre Clarke MacArthur on the firing of Lindy Ruff: “It took me by surprise. I thought for sure they would work through it. ... They’ve always done that in the past where they’ve gotten through it and things have worked out there where they’ve gotten to the playoffs or they haven’t. It was obviously shocking for a lot of people.”
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle on Ruff: “I’m sure he’s wondering what he’s going to do today. Because yesterday he was working and running a hockey club. He’s probably driving around today and wondering.”
• The Sabres made room for Porter by putting Cody McCormick on waivers and he cleared Thursday, so he was loaned to Rochester. Oddly enough, his first game for the Amerks will be tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
• The Sabres again scratched rookie Mikhail Grigorenko, with Rolston saying he did not yet know much about the team’s No. 1 draft pick. When the Sabres were in training camp last month, remember, Rolston was in the middle of the season in Rochester.
• Andrej Sekera (charley horse) and Jordan Leopold were also scratched, with Leopold sitting out the morning skate because of what Rolston called an upper-body injury. Leopold, a healthy scratch Tuesday against Winnipeg, took a puck in the hand late in practice Wednesday but is also the subject of trade rumors.