When he was playing at Canisius College, Cory Conacher would travel down Main Street to his share of Buffalo Sabres games. And the player he always related with, the player he watched the most, was Tyler Ennis.
Sunday night, he lined up to the left of Ennis in his Buffalo debut and with Drew Stafford on the right wing the line accounted for the only goal in the Sabres’ 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks.
Ennis and Stafford worked transition with Conacher trailing the play. Ennis was patient, passing to Conacher who had a partially open net but his shot missed landing at the far goalpost. That’s where Stafford was to tip in the rebound, giving Conacher his first point as a Sabre and 50th of his career.
“It was just a great pass by Ennis and I wasn’t trying to pass that back door, I was trying to score that,” Conacher said. “It was nice that Stafford was there on the back door to finish that one off. I just didn’t shoot it the right way. I didn’t have as much net as I thought I did and I ended up missing the net. Luckily Stafford was there to get the rebound.”
Conacher and Ennis had talked about playing with each other ever since he was claimed by the Sabres off waivers on Wednesday.
It’s a small-guys-stick-together situation. Conacher is 5-foot-8 and Ennis is 5-9. At Sunday’s morning skate, he told Ennis that he was his favorite Sabre back in his college days.
“I think that’s cool,” Ennis said. “It’s another example of small guys being an inspiration for other small guys.
“He’s a very talented player. It was fun to play with him. He’s got a lot of skill and that play on the goal there he made a great move. That’s an offensive, creative play and it was nice to see. The Hawks are a really good team. I think for a first game with me, Cory and Staff, we generated quite a bit and we just need to keep growing it.”
It wasn’t exactly instant chemistry among the three, but it sure looked like something with possibilities.
“Obviously it usually takes a couple of games but it’s easy to play with a guy like Ennis and Stafford as well,” Conacher said. “They allow you to make room for yourself and they know how to make plays. They know where you are on the ice. It’s pretty comfortable play with those guys.
Interim coach Ted Nolan liked what he saw from Conacher.
“For the first time Conacher played here, I like the way he has a little vinegar in him,” Nolan said. “He competes and that’s a big thing with us. We need some people who compete. ... You can never go wrong when you have guys who love to compete.”
Conacher decided to wear No. 88 in Buffalo although he wore No. 89 with Tampa Bay and Ottawa. While the number is available in Buffalo, he decided not to choose it, out of respect for former Sabre Alexander Mogilny.
He decided to go one lower, No. 88, but double-checked with Buffalo native and Chicago forward Patrick Kane, just be sure.
Kane got a kick out of that.
“He texted me and said, ‘I’m gonna wear your number in Buffalo is that all right?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, you don’t need to be asking me that,’ ” Kane said. “That’s fine.”
The two skated together over the summer playing weekend games at Leisure Rinks. Kane got a sense for Conacher’s work ethic and wasn’t surprised to hear he landed in Buffalo.
“I kind of had a sense when he got put on waivers that Buffalo was going to pick him up,” Kane said. “He had a good career here at Canisius and I’m rooting for him. ... He’s a hard-working kid. I skate with him in the summer and he skates the ice like he thinks it’s a Stanley Cup final game. He’s a pretty competitive kid.”
Four players were missing from the Sabres lineup with injuries – Zemgus Girgensons (undisclosed), Torrey Mitchell (lower body), Chris Stewart (lower body) and Alexander Sulzer (undisclosed).
Nolan said all of them were at least a week away with Stewart probably out longer. Stewart was seen in the hallway of First Niagara Center on Sunday morning wearing a walking cast on his right ankle.
Patrick Kaleta reportedly skated on his own Sunday morning, but Nolan said that Kaleta will not be back in the lineup this season. Kaleta tore his ACL in November while playing with the Rochester Americans.