The Buffalo Sabres are expected to take today off before getting into big-time prep mode Monday for Wednesday night’s season opener in Detroit. They finished a 4-2-1 preseason with Friday’s 1-0 loss at Carolina and there are plenty of questions heading into the start of the regular season. Here’s a crack at some answers:
What’s the injury report look like?
Marcus Foligno missed practice Saturday with a shoulder strain but coach Ron Rolston said he should play Wednesday. Rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov, one of the surprises of camp, will be out two weeks after needing a procedure to stitch a finger on his left hand that Rolston said was “smashed” by a shot block Friday night. Rolston also said rookie Joel Armia’s broken hand, suffered here Wednesday against Columbus, did not need surgery. He will be out 5-6 weeks.
Zadorov signed his entry-level deal, which pays $925,000 per season, on Wednesday but it only kicks in once he starts his NHL career and plays in 10 games. Rolston said the Sabres might keep Zadorov here for the two weeks, rather than return him to junior hockey, so he can skate with the club; the Sabres could stash him on injured reserve so he doesn’t count against the 23-man roster limit.
What’s the roster report look like?
The Sabres have to be at 23 players by 3 p.m. Monday. They’re likely keeping 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies, and Rolston confirmed Saturday what’s been widely reported for the last two weeks: No. 1 draft pick Rasmus Ristolainen has made the team on defense.
Rolston said Ristolainen “was probably one of our better defensemen” in the loss in Carolina and has shown huge confidence in the 18-year-old from the start of camp. The 6-foot-4 Ristolainen played in five of the team’s seven preseason games, exceeding 19 minutes of ice time in four of them.
“Tremendous skill for being that tall, skates well, handles the puck, shoots like a ‘horse-kick,’ ” was the scouting report on Ristolainen given after practice one day last week by veteran Henrik Tallinder. “I think he’s going to be a great player.”
The Sabres placed former second-round pick Luke Adam on waivers with the purpose of getting him to Rochester.
It appears all eight healthy defensemen still on the roster will make the team. The team still has to trim two forwards, with Brian Flynn and Johan Larsson both able to go back to Rochester without going through waivers. Larsson was not on a line at Saturday’s practice.
What do you read into a 4-2-1 record?
Absolutely nothing. Lindy Ruff-led Dallas went 5-0-2 in the exhibition schedule. Tampa Bay was 5-1 going into its finale Saturday night and the Sabres and Calgary both finished 4-2-1. Virtually every publication and Web site has all four of those teams on the sidelines come playoff time.
Still, it’s obviously better to be winning games than not. Especially with a young team.
“Everyone is excited,” center Cody Hodgson said Saturday. “It was a good camp. I thought we learned a lot and we’re still learning. We’ve had positives. The penalty kill has been really good and we’ve been playing really well as a team defensively.”
Who is the captain going to be?
Rolston said Saturday the Sabres will definitely have one before the opener. The captaincy rotated through the preseason, with Steve Ott wearing the ‘C’ Friday.
“I think it’s a huge honor to represent the team,” Ott said at the beginning of camp when asked if he wanted the role. “But we’ve got great leaders on this team, a bunch of guys very capable of wearing that letter.”
Ott and Thomas Vanek are two clear candidates, although both are unsigned for next year. Christian Ehrhoff and Hodgson, who are both signed long-term, have also been captain during the preseason.
How has Tyler Myers looked?
Having Myers return to his Calder Trophy form of his 2009-10 rookie season would be as if the team the team traded for a top-4 defenseman. So far in preseason, he’s looked outstanding in both his own zone and on the rush after what the team said was a strong summer in the workout room and with mental skills training.
“I think he’s been playing great,” said Tallinder, his rookie season partner who has played off and on with him this month. “He looks tremendous to me. Confidence is what it is. If you’re afraid of making mistakes or trying to push it too hard, things will not happen for you. You just have to relax, have different perspective for everything.”
“When you get older, you let it off a little bit. When you’re young, you take it straight to heart basically and that’s what he did.”
Best part of the preseason?
It was easily the Sabres’ work in their own zone. The team gave up 15 goals in the seven games in large part because of some great goaltending and near-perfect penalty killing (16 of 16 at home, 30 of 32 overall).
Ryan Miller went 1-2-0 but had a 2.39 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Jhonas Enroth was 1-0-1, 1.95, .932 and Matt Hackett, who will be the No. 1 in Rochester, got two wins with a 1.62 GAA and .926 save percentage.
The Sabres want to reduce the giveaways and positional foul-ups that have ruined the last two seasons by taking a more conservative approach to rushes up ice, especially from the defense.
“It’s an easy way to play the game when you know where everyone is,” Hodgson said. “I’m looking forward to see how that translates to the regular season.”
“I think our goaltending was outstanding, all three guys,” Rolston said. “‘Millsy looks strong. He’s a presence back there. You can feel it. You can see it. Jhonas played extremely well. He’s really seeing the puck well and feeling confident about himself.”
What was the worst part?
The Sabres were just 1 for 26 on the power play, continuing their disturbing trend from last season when they were second-last in the NHL with the man advantage. There is admittedly little special teams work during camp but Rolston said it’s an area in which he needs to see quick improvement.
“Don’t lose momentum of the hockey game,” he said when asked about short-term goals for the power play. “In Carolina, I thought we did. Our first power play we never got set up in the zone and you’ve got 10 of your best players frustrated in the first five minutes.”