PHILADELPHIA — Daniel Briere was in Pittsburgh getting ready for a game against the Penguins late on the afternoon of Feb. 20 when big news broke in Buffalo. It was something he never thought he’d hear: Lindy Ruff, his old coach, was out.
“I was shocked. I never expected that,” Briere told The News on Sunday night prior to the Sabres’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Wells Fargo Center, which the Flyers won 3-2. “It’s the one thing that was a given in Buffalo: Darcy [Regier] as general manager and Lindy as coach. I couldn’t picture it any other way.”
Briere knew the Sabres had been struggling mightily and had played a dreadful game the previous night in a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg in First Niagara Center. But Ruff had been there since 1997 so no one really thought his time had actually run out.
“They’ve had some tough times before but Lindy had always stayed,” Briere said. “I haven’t played them since then and it’s tough to imagine them without Lindy. I think it’s going to be weird. We’ll see. In my mind, I still can’t picture it without him behind the bench. But time moves. People move and it’s just reality.”
Briere, of course, co-captained Buffalo’s 2006 and 2007 Eastern Conference finalists. He chuckled when asked about his favorite Ruff memories and the subject of the infamous 2007 brawl with Ottawa was brought up. Ruff, of course, ended up screaming at Ottawa coach Bryan Murray between the benches at the end of that fracas.
“Lindy was very animated. He was the face of the Sabres for the longest time,” Briere said. “All the battles that we went through, it sticks in my mind. It’s something I will remember for a long time. It’s the only coach I had when I played in Buffalo and I really can’t see it any other way.”
While Briere mused about the Sabres prior to the game, he has plenty of issues to deal with on his current club. The Flyers entered Sunday on a three-game skid and 11th in the East.
The Flyers entered Sunday’s game in the kind of chaos the Sabres were in around the time of Ruff’s firing. There were even rumblings in the building that coach Peter Laviolette’s job could be in jeopardy with another no-show.
Laviolette called a 20-minute, closed-door meeting after Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Boston, and Briere told reporters afterward the team needs to show some passion on the ice.
“Passion, confidence are words that are entangled,” Briere said Sunday. “When things are going well, it seems like you play with a lot more confidence and there’s more passion. You’re just more comfortable in how you’re doing things and in your own game.
“When things start going south, like the way they are now, everybody is second-guessing every move they’re making. You’re a little hesitant.”
Briere missed the first four games of the season due to a wrist injury suffered while playing in Germany during the lockout. One of the four was a 5-2 loss Jan. 20 in Buffalo that was the Sabres’ opener and the Flyers’ second game. The Flyers lost their first three games and six of their first eight. They’ve been climbing uphill ever since.
Close Flyers watchers wonder if Briere is still dogged by his problem. He has just five goals and 13 points in 22 games this season – and no goals in the last nine games.
“It’s hockey and everybody deals with injuries at one time or another but it was definitely disappointing,” Briere said. “It was one of the last games before we were coming back. You didn’t know that at the time it happened but it was certainly disappointing to get hurt while you’re doing the right thing and trying to stay in shape. It is what it is. But it’s gotten better and better and it’s fine.”
Defenseman Jordan Leopold was slated to return to the Buffalo lineup Sunday after missing eight games with an upper-body injury. Leopold was scratched for the Winnipeg game and was injured the next day during Ruff’s final practice. Sunday was scheduled to be his debut under interim coach Ron Rolston and Leopold took warmup but was a surprise scratch.
Andrej Sekera, who was injured late in Thursday’s game in New Jersey, was supposed to miss the game but he played instead.
After the morning skate, Leopold said he was looking forward to seeing the atmosphere on the bench under Rolston. He then took some clearly veiled shots at Ruff.
“The biggest thing we’re talking about is stay composed, stay positive,” Leopold said. “This game is 90 percent mental. If you’re going good, you’re OK there. If you’re not, you have to find a way to get going. If we’re negative all the time, really on guys, it’s not going to work in our favor.”
Leopold was taken off injured reserve and the Sabres loaned Adam Pardy back to Rochester to make room for him. … Jochen Hecht returned to the lineup after getting scratched Thursday and Mikhail Grigorenko sat out. … It looks like Ville Leino’s season debut will come Tuesday night against the New York Rangers. “That’s a good target and start for him,” Rolston said.