CHICAGO — It was pretty clear from practice Friday in First Niagara Center that defenseman Mike Weber was in danger of becoming a healthy scratch. It was not nearly as obvious that Mikhail Grigorenko was returning to the lineup after one game in the press box.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston carried out those moves for Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks in United Center, putting Alexander Sulzer in for Weber and inserting Grigorenko in place of Kevin Porter.
The Grigorenko move was a mild surprise, since he’s pointless in four games and Rolston said this week the 19-year-old’s game lacked urgency.
“It’s not a guarantee to be in the lineup,” Rolston said. “That gave him some perspective on watching. Now he gets to get back into the lineup and try to improve.”
“The game I watched from the stands I learned a couple things,” Grigorenko said. “… taking better care of the puck, try to make better passes so we can possess the puck more. If our team has more possessions, it can create some offense.”
As for Weber, Rolston said, “He’s in a situation where we have seven defensemen. We want guys to not get comfortable and earn their positions. Tonight we made a change.”
The coach had no real issues with Porter’s play, even though the second-year Sabre is pointless and minus-3 thus far. Rolston simply said he was committing to Grigorenko and rookie Johan Larsson for Saturday’s game, so that nosed Porter out of the lineup.
Sulzer, who was put on waivers at the end of training camp and spent a game in Rochester, was thrilled to get another chance with the Sabres.
“It’s pretty much like Groundhog Day for me,” said Sulzer, who has dealt with being a healthy scratch from his time in Nashville and Vancouver. “I’ve been through it for the last five years. It’s not that I’m not putting pressure on myself but I know how to handle it. It’s part of the situation I’m in. I’m in the NHL. There’s no reason to complain.
“It’s challenging all the time when you sit out and you don’t get to play, but it’s part of the game. It happens and I just try to be positive, focused and then when you get the chance, make the best of it.”
Rolston also inserted John Scott back into the lineup in place of Patrick Kaleta, who is suspended indefinitely pending a hearing for his hit on Columbus’ Jack Johnson on Thursday night.
Kaleta will have an in-person hearing with NHL officials Tuesday in New York, meaning he’s likely looking at at least a five-game ban. This is his fourth suspension since 2009.
“He’s been through this before. He’s got to be extra careful just because of his past history,” Rolston said. “We’ll see what happens here come Tuesday and go from there. He’s going to have to deal with it.
“I wasn’t even sure where the play was. We did have to go back and look at it. He plays a physical game. … The league is putting a big emphasis on anything that has contact with the head. Once you saw it, you knew they were going to look at it right away and make a decision on it.”
South Buffalo native Patrick Kane said before the game the Blackhawks have made a smoother transition to being Stanley Cup champions this year than they did in 2010 after winning for the first time.
“We kind of knew what to expect a little bit more this time around,” Kane said. “After you win that first Cup, I think you’re probably still celebrating from the year before when the time comes around where you need to play again. We’re excited to be back playing.
“I still think there’s another level we can reach. But we realize we have to get back into it and get excited about what’s going on here with this season. Everyone came back in pretty good shape and everyone is ready to get back on the ice and play hockey.”
Kane entered Saturday’s game with a team-high three goals and was tied with three other Hawks with four points. Kane scored in the first three games of the season for the first time in his seven-year career before being blanked in Friday’s 3-2 win here over the New York Islanders. He scored the 150th goal of his career in the season opener against Washington.
Kane & Co. come to Buffalo to meet the Sabres on March 9. It will be Kane’s third career game in his hometown and his first since Oct. 11, 2010 — the longest absence from First Niagara Center by any Western Conference team.