The naked eyes in First Niagara Center could plainly see how much Mike Weber and Tyler Myers were struggling Thursday night. The numbers back up the view. So did the disgust in Weber’s voice.
Weber and Myers were minus-3 in the first period of the 4-1 loss to Columbus before coach Ron Rolston split them up. Weber finished minus-4.
“I didn’t quit, didn’t stop battling,” Weber said. “But there’s a hesitation in our game right now with every guy not knowing when to go. It was said in the room. You look at preseason games where guys were battling for jobs, fighting for spots and now it seems like everyone is scared to make mistakes. We need to generate something.”
Weber is minus-8 in the Sabres’ five games – the worst rating in the league among the 593 skaters that have appeared in an NHL game. Myers is minus-7, tied with Washington’s Eric Fehr for second-last.
“It’s frustrating. I’m trying to just work hard and do my job and I didn’t get my job accomplished tonight,” Weber said. “I’m supposed to help keep pucks out of the net and I was even putting them in the net.”
Less than two minutes into the game, Myers dropped coverage on Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson and he popped home a loose puck from the edge of the crease to open the scoring. Weber got burned twice in just over two minutes late in the first period, as Nick Foligno’s pass deflected off him past Ryan Miller and Marian Gaborik potted a 2-on-1 as Weber slid helplessly on his belly while backing in toward his goal.
“It’s not like I wanted to go down minus-4, be on for every single goal tonight,” Weber said. “But I know I’ve got to continue to work hard every shift or I could be out of here. … “I’ve got to stop that 2-on-1. Minus-4 tonight. I’m not happy with my game at all.”
“It certainly wasn’t a good game for me. I know that,” Myers added. “It’s just a matter of accepting that and resetting.”
Weber spent the second period with rookie Rasmus Ristolainen, his partner through most of the exhibition season. Myers went the rest of the way with Jamie McBain.
“The one group was struggling there,” was coach Ron Rolston’s cryptic explanation. “They’ve been minus-I-don’t-know-what the last couple games so we had to make a change there.”
Like several other Sabres in the postgame dressing room, Weber said the team refuses to rely on its youth as a crutch.
“I’m tired of hearing it’s a young team. I’m really tired of hearing it,” he said. “There’s no excuses in here. All these guys have played five games in this league. We need to find a way. We need to make plays. We’re going to make mistakes but we need to make plays.
“The practices are intense,” Weber added. “Guys are taking it to the net. Guys are generating stuff. Guys are trying to make plays. We come into the game and we’re squeezing our sticks. I don’t know what else to say about that. We have to find a way to get that hesitation out of our game and play hockey. Bear down, battle, compete and play hockey.”
Rolston waited only four games to ship center Mikhail Grigorenko to the press box. The 19-year-old is pointless and watched as Johan Larsson took his spot in the lineup.
What’s up with Grigorenko?
“Right now he just needs to pick up his urgency in his game,” Rolston said. “There hasn’t been a lot of urgency to it. At times there has been, but not consistent enough.”
Injured defenseman Henrik Tallinder skated in a non-contact role Thursday morning and will likely try to go in a full role today. Tallinder suffered an upper-body injury in the opener last week against Ottawa and will return either Saturday night in Chicago or Monday night here against Minnesota in the return of former Sabres captain Jason Pominville.
“I just got a hit right into the boards and it didn’t feel good,” Tallinder said. “I felt it right away. It was in their end, I felt something. The game went back to our end and I was still on the ice but something was not right.”
Thomas Vanek’s goal was the 252nd of his career, tying Craig Ramsey for fifth on the all-time Sabres list. Vanek trails Danny Gare by 15 goals for fourth. … Ryan Miller returned to the net after missing two games with a mild groin pull. … Christian Ehrhoff entered the game averaging 25:34 of ice time and finished this one at 26:02. No Sabre has averaged more than 26 minutes for a season since Alexei Zhitnik logged 26:32 during the 2002-03 season.