The preseason is a time to shake out the cobwebs, get into shape and prepare for the real games. It’s also a time to send messages.
Patrick Kaleta didn’t even see Jamie McBain get dropped with a clean, hard check in the Sabres’ preseason opener. He just knew McBain was a new teammate, and he wanted the defenseman to know that Buffalo players stick up for each other.
“He’s a new guy, and he’s got to be welcomed on the team,” Kaleta said Monday in First Niagara Center. “He’s got to know that we have his back.”
Kaleta and Cody McCormick went after Montreal players who leveled big hits during the Sabres’ 5-4 victory Sunday night. The idea of seeking revenge for clean hits is debatable, but the Sabres’ logic for doing it draws little argument.
“We want to establish that we are a team and no one is going to take liberties on old guys, young guys,” Kaleta said. “We want to establish that early. We want to be a team that’s tough to play against, and you’re going to have to go through five of us, not just one.”
Kaleta says he might not have challenged mild-mannered Alex Galchenyuk during the regular season, especially during the third period of a tie game.
“It’s preseason, so at that point in the game I made the choice to stick up for him,” Kaleta said.
The Canadiens, as usual, weren’t thrilled with Kaleta’s action. Tough guy Brandon Prust later cross-checked Kaleta prior to a faceoff, and both went to the box.
“There’s a lot of clean hits,” Prust told reporters in Montreal, “so if there’s fights for clean hits there’s going to be a lot of fights this year.”
Wayne Gretzky made it cool to tuck a jersey into hockey pants while playing. The NHL is making it a penalty.
The league has decided to enforce a long-overlooked rule that states all equipment must be worn under the uniform. Players who disobey will get a warning, followed on the second instance by a two-minute penalty for delay of game.
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin called the rule “stupid,” according to the Washington Post, and said the league is stripping stars of their identities.
The jersey of Sabres left wing Tyler Ennis is usually tucked into his pants, but he says it’s not intentional and happens naturally during a game.
“It’s just my pants come up so high, and I’m not the biggest guy so my jersey is pretty big and when I’m skating I get a little hunched over and my jersey just kind of falls into the pants,” Ennis said. “It just happens. I don’t know how they’re going to prevent that, though. I don’t do it on purpose, but how are they going to figure out if it’s done inadvertently?”
Why is the league enforcing the rule? One theory is the NHL wants to ensure player safety by covering exposed areas. Another says the league will soon put ads on the bottom of jerseys, and tucked sweaters would prevent the sponsors from being seen.
The Sabres’ training camp numbers have started to drop officially and unofficially.
Buffalo has sent five players back to their junior teams, bringing the roster total down to 56. Justin Bailey, the Williamsville native selected in the second round of the NHL draft, was among those to depart. Joining Bailey were fellow forwards Nicholas Baptiste, Justin Kea and Logan Nelson, and defenseman Connor Boland.
The Sabres also broke their practice sessions into three groups, and one could easily be considered the Rochester Americans. It consisted of Peter Trainor, Jonathan Parker, Johnny McGuire, Alex Lepkowski, Kevin Sundher, Shawn Szydlowski, Colin Jacobs, Eric Locke, Frederick Roy, Matt MacKenzie, Brady Austin and Nick Crawford.