Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston’s initial reasoning for dropping Cody Hodgson to the fourth line Sunday night didn’t pass the sniff test.
Rolston said he wanted to put Jochen Hecht – who has two goals in 35 games – on the top line with Jason Pominville and Steve Ott to bring “more stability on that line.”
That meant Hodgson was centering John Scott and Patrick Kaleta against the Boston Bruins, two players with a combined zero points on the season.
Finally, on the third question posed to Rolston about the demotion, he took the bait.
“He’s got to be better on the defensive side of things right now, period,” Rolston said of why he dropped Hodgson, who remains second on the team with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) after Sunday’s 2-0 loss at First Niagara Center.
Hodgson, who learned of the decision at the morning skate, put on a happy face when talking to the media, but hints of his frustration came across in his comments.
“I’m just trying to play guys. I don’t worry about where I play or how much I play, I just go out there and do my best,” he said.
Hodgson, who saw 15:30 of ice time, did create some chances against the Bruins. He nearly scored on a 2-on-1 in the second period when his attempted pass to Scott was deflected by a Boston defenseman behind goalie Anton Khudobin, who squeezed his pads just in time to prevent the puck from crossing the line.
“It’s just a different dynamic,” Hodgson said of playing with Scott and Kaleta. “They create a lot of room. I thought we should have scored on the 2-on-1, but I thought overall it’s a frustrating game for everybody.”
With Jordan Leopold sent to St. Louis on Saturday, the Sabres have to replace more than 21 minutes of ice time.
In their first two games without the veteran defenseman, that has meant an increase in ice time for Tyler Myers. Myers skated 23:59 against the Bruins, a night after he was on the ice for a season-high 28:13 in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
“It’s whatever the coaches are going to decide how to play us,” Myers said. “I think all the ‘D’ has been doing a really good job of adjusting to what has been given to them.”
“He did a good job, I thought, tonight” Rolston said. “He was good in our zone with his battles. I think his game is progressing.”
The recent trades of Leopold and fellow defenseman T.J. Brennan to Florida have eased the Sabres’ logjam along the blue line. The team is carrying just six healthy defensemen, with Myers being joined by rookie Mark Pysyk, Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Weber, Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera.
Myers has had his tribulations this year, but said it’s not difficult to mentally prepare – whether he’s skating only a few shifts a period, or nearly half the game.
“You just kind of deal with it and try to take advantage of what’s given to you,” he said before playing the Bruins.
Buffalo also scratched forward Ville Leino, who scored his first two goals of the season in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Capitals. Leino didn’t play the final seven minutes of the third period against Washington, but did skate two shifts in overtime, and took an unsuccessful attempt in the shootout. Rolston said Leino has an upper-body injury and is hopeful to have him in the lineup Tuesday against Pittsburgh.
Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko’s season will continue in juniors. Grigorenko’s Quebec Remparts eliminated Chicoutimi in six games Sunday in the first round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs with a 4-3 overtime victory. Grigorenko had 12 points in the six games (three goals, nine assists).
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller tied Dominik Hasek’s franchise record for games played by a goalie Sunday night when he appeared in his 491st game with the team.
“I guess I didn’t realize it was a milestone until they said it in the first period. It does mean an awful lot,” Miller said. “To play nearly 500 games as a goaltender, I’d never thought I’d get the opportunity. I was just happy to make an NHL team and just kind of enjoy the ride as best I can.”