WASHINGTON – It’s decision time. Mikhail Grigorenko is either going to spend the rest of the season in Buffalo or pack his bags for Quebec.
The Sabres’ first-round draft pick played the fifth and final game of his tryout period Sunday in a 3-2 loss to Washington. The first year of his entry-level contract kicks in with a sixth game.
“I know that the rule says if I’m going to play next game I’m staying with the team,” Grigorenko told The Buffalo News. “I hope so. Probably soon I will know what they are going to do with me. I hope I’ll stay here.”
Grigorenko gave the Sabres a lot to think about against the Capitals. He played a season-high 17 minutes, 10 seconds, nearly scored his first goal, took two shots and had three others blocked or miss the net.
“I really enjoyed the game,” Grigorenko said in Verizon Center. “If we could win the game it would be like, you know, the best time in my life. But we lost the game, so I was really disappointed.”
General Manager Darcy Regier said there’s no deadline for the decision. Grigorenko could practice with the team a few more days and sit Tuesday against Toronto to allow management more time to think. The 18-year-old’s junior team doesn’t play again until Friday.
“Overall, it was a good showing for him,” said coach Lindy Ruff, who had Grigorenko come to the rink Sunday morning for additional tutoring. “He’s receptive. He understands there’s some areas he has to get better. He knows that. Overall, I thought it was maybe his best effort.”
Grigorenko nearly tied the game at 2-2 early in the third period. Tyler Myers fed the rookie at the left side of the crease, and Grigorenko tried to tuck the puck inside the far post. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth stretched out his right pad for the best stop of his 22-save game.
“I was really close to him when I got the puck,” Grigorenko said. “I was trying just to reach the far post, and he was big enough to save it.
“I’ve done everything I could. I was trying to do everything the coaches wanted from me, be good defensively, win faceoffs, compete and stuff. I was making sure this is the most important thing in my game, and I was trying to do it perfectly. I hope I’ve done this well.”
About an hour before puck drop, Rick Jeanneret was relaxing in the Sabres’ broadcast booth, overlooking an empty arena. An assistant asked if he wanted to take a look at the day’s cue cards, which spelled out sponsors and upcoming promotions he had to plug during the game.
“I’d better,” said the Hall of Fame announcer, who can usually recite them in his sleep. “It’s been about nine months since I’ve done this.”
He quickly breezed through the spots and sat back comfortably in his chair, ready to call a game for the first time this season.
“I’m long past the days of being nervous, but I am anticipating it quite a bit because I’m not so sure I’m going to be right up to snuff to begin with here,” Jeanneret said before the loss to Washington. “I think once things get under way, I’ll be fine.”
Even better for Jeanneret is he’s fine. After an illness that included hospitalization and a four-game absence, Jeanneret is feeling well enough to travel with the team and assume his rightful spot in the announcer’s chair.
“I think I sat around long enough,” he said with a smile. “It’s a short season, and I just made it a little shorter.”
Although Jeanneret has skipped a few road trips the last couple of years, those were by choice. Neither he nor the team is accustomed to being apart from each other, especially at the start of the season. He doesn’t think he’d missed an opener before this one since joining the team in 1971.
“Over 40-some-odd years, I’ve missed very few games,” he said. “I can count them on two hands, but I don’t think it’d be much more than that.”
Jeanneret spent most of the previous week and a half resting. The orders from doctors and the Sabres specifically called for lying around, and he obliged.
“I spent a lot of time with the iPad and a lot of time on the Kindle reading,” he said. “I really didn’t do a whole lot more than that. I was told to rest, and I tried to keep my nose to the grindstone and obey the orders. That’s basically all I was doing.
“I did keep in touch with the team, and they were letting me know what was happening. Mostly, from the top down, they just said, ‘Stay away and get better. Don’t even think about coming back until you are.’ It was the typical Buffalo Sabres’ treatment of employees. It was top shelf.”
Top shelf, where mama hides the cookies? Sabres fans can hear that again now that Jeanneret has returned.