NEW YORK — The moves between Rochester and Buffalo have been plentiful the last few weeks. Ron Rolston switched towns first, taking over as coach of the Sabres and leaving behind the same position with Rochester. Center Kevin Porter joined the Sabres next, followed by defenseman Adam Pardy and left wing Brian Flynn.
The moves have sent a message to players in both cities. Rolston has firsthand knowledge of the Amerks’ abilities, and he’s quickly shown he’ll give them a call if some Sabres are slacking or injured.
“I think it’s good for those guys,” Porter said Sunday about his former Rochester teammates. “He’s been with some of those guys for almost a year and a half, so he knows them and he knows how they play. If they’re playing well, there might be some injuries here or guys not playing well, and there could be a chance. I think they know that, and it’s good for them.”
The newcomers haven’t been afterthoughts, either. Porter entered Sunday night’s game against the New York Rangers averaging 14:56 of ice time. That was more than Sabres veterans Jochen Hecht, Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta.
“The one thing that we’ve really liked about Kevin’s game is he’s really been detailed as a player for us,” Rolston said in Madison Square Garden. “That’s something that we’ve been talking about a lot, so I think down in Rochester, those players have to understand those things are very important. It’s not all about scoring goals and creating points, that type of thing. It’s more about the details and how we want to do things and where we want to go from where we’re at.”
Porter and Pardy came up on merit, with Rolston and the Sabres aware of their skills and confident they could help the NHL club. Flynn was recalled over the weekend with Thomas Vanek out (the Sabres’ leading scorer missed his second straight game Sunday with an upper-body injury), but he’ll be given a chance to stay with his talent. The left winger was second on the Amerks with 16 goals and fifth in points with 32 in 45 games.
“They obviously think that I could play a little bit of a role and help them win hockey games, so that’s really my only focus,” said Flynn, who had 10 friends and family members watch his debut in Buffalo on Saturday and travel to New York to see the second game. “Ron demands a lot from his guys, and I think guys respect him. I know I do. Down when I was in Rochester, he could always get guys to play hard for him. He always had a good structure, so those are two huge things.”
Flynn resumed his role alongside Porter and right wing Patrick Kaleta against the Rangers. He played 8:50 in his debut, a 4-3 shootout victory over New Jersey.
“He was fine,” Rolston said, “but he’s a player that once he gets acclimated and gets adjusted to the environment and the guys and the speed, he’s going to be a good player for us. I thought he did a good job, but I thought he’s got a lot more to give us.”
Porter feels he can bring more, too. He had no points and was minus-1 in his opening five games with six penalty minutes.
“It’s always tough the first few games,” he said. “You don’t want to make any mistakes. My main concern was to play well defensively and not give anything up, but I’ve got to start chipping in offensively.”
Rolston said Vanek showed some improvement with his ailment. The interim coach is hopeful the left winger can return Tuesday in Carolina. He wasn’t ready for the Rangers.
“For his best interests and the best interests of the team right now, we decided to hold him out,” Rolston said. “He just can’t do some of the things we need him to do.”
Marcus Foligno remained in Vanek’s role on the left side of center Cody Hodgson and right wing Jason Pominville. The Sabres started with the same forward lines and defense pairs they used against the Devils.
John Scott was scratched for the fourth time in five games, while T.J. Brennan watched for the fifth straight time. .