WASHINGTON — The losing continues for the Buffalo Sabres. The sell-off awaits. Now you have to wonder if the inevitable implosion of the dressing room is beginning.
Cracks certainly began to show after Sunday’s pregame skate when forward Patrick Kaleta – eligible to play for the first time after serving a five-game suspension for an ugly boarding incident with New York Rangers star Brad Richards – was furious to learn he would be a healthy scratch for the game against the Washington Capitals.
Instead of going right back in the lineup, Kaleta was again a spectator for the 5-3 loss in the Verizon Center. Cynics might say several players who were in uniform played a similar role at times, especially when the Sabres were allowing three goals in a 5½-minute span of the second period. They are 1-3-3 in their last seven games and have slipped to 14th place in the Eastern Conference
Kaleta was clearly agitated by the team’s 1-2-2 record during his suspension and seemed particularly disturbed by Saturday’s overtime loss to Ottawa. The Sabres took a 2-0 first-period lead in that game and then became onlookers the rest of the way. In addition, Ottawa agitator Chris Neil ran around pell-mell drilling Buffalo players before veteran Robyn Regehr finally fought him.
“I’m pissed off. I want to play,” Kaleta said. “And especially after watching some things, sitting there watching the game, I want to play. They don’t need me right now, I guess. I’ve been pissed off watching for the past couple weeks. No matter if you’re a fan, a player, you guys know what’s going on.
“You should be pissed off. You should play with a little piss and vinegar. You shouldn’t be happy. We’re not in position we want to be in. We have to work harder, come in and do something about it.”
Kaleta spoke after taking extra drills with fellow healthy scratch John Scott. No other players were in the locker room to hear the Angola native question if the team wants or needs him at this point. As the media was talking to interim coach Ron Rolston, multiple observers said Kaleta was howling in anger on the ice while finishing his work.
The locker room cauldron bubbled even more after the game when goaltender Ryan Miller was asked about Kaleta.
“He’s being dramatic. We’re not discussing what Patty says to you guys,” Miller said, anger flaring in his eyes. “That’s just drama and he needs to just grow up if he’s going to say that.
“You know what? He had a stupid play in a game. He sat, he was punished. He has to get over it and move on. We handled it. He doesn’t have to go to you guys and say that stuff. There, I’m addressing it right now.”
Kaleta said he fully expected to be playing until he arrived at the rink and was told he wouldn’t be by interim coach Ron Rolston. What was Rolston’s message?
“That’s between me and the coach and I have to listen to what he wants,” Kaleta said. “Obviously I’m going to be pissed off for today and not be too pleasant. I think about it, let it bother me for a little bit and move on and prepare myself. Hopefully the team will want me back here in the next couple of games.”
Rolston initially seemed puzzled when questioned prior to the game about Kaleta’s absence, asking reporters “Who are we going to take out?”
Pressed on the issue, Rolston revealed at least a glimpse of the organization’s feelings on the Richards hit.
“He understands what just happened and the way he’s got to play,” Rolston said. “But again, we want to balance the way he plays and not take that away from him either because that’s what makes him a valuable hockey player in the league.
“On the other hand, it’s a situation where he understands that sitting out five games for him wasn’t a good thing and it wasn’t a good thing for our team.”
The Sabres play again Tuesday in Montreal and certainly could use some of the verve Kaleta brings to the ice.
“Obviously I’m not happy and I shouldn’t be,” Kaleta said. “I shouldn’t be pleasant. I shouldn’t be nice. I’m going to ... try to get my energy going in a positive way, try to get ready for the next game or the game after that or whenever the team needs me.”
Captain Jason Pominville said he knew Kaleta was angry but that players didn’t request Rolston take any more action.
“He’s the type of guy who shows heart and character every night,” Pominville said. “He’s passionate and he wants to be in. I know Ron had a talk with him. We’ll talk to Patty, too.”
“We don’t make lineup decisions. We’re plugged in,” Miller said. “You guys think we have way more power than we got, man. ... He doesn’t need to handle it like that and we’ll deal with it internally.”
Playing a full 60-minute game could use some internal discussion as well. The Caps snapped a 1-1 tie as Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson scored in the decisive span of the second period, the second three-goal middle frame the Sabres endured in two days.
Buffalo battled back on goals by Brian Flynn and Cody Hodgson, his second of the game, to make it 4-3 early in the third. Caps goalie Braden Holtby robbed Drew Stafford from the slot with a glove save with less than six minutes left. A few seconds later, the Caps crashed the crease and Mathieu Perreault got the insurance goal with 4:55 to go.