Battling sickness and injuries, the Buffalo Sabres have had to make quite a few call-ups from the American Hockey League over the past few days. They made one more Tuesday morning, bringing Joel Armia
up to play in his first NHL game.
It’ll happen at Joe Louis Arena as the Sabres are set to take on the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 7 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Armia, the 16th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, has 16 points (7+9) in 21 games this season with the Rochester Americans. He recently returned from an injury that kept him out for a few weeks. He’s now on a Sabres team that features four other call-ups from the Amerks playing big roles.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson, Tim Scaller and Mark Pysyk are the other players who have been brought up in the past week. Eight regular Sabres are currently out of the lineup with six of them on injured reserve.
Armia, a 6-foot-3, 192-pound Finnish wing, will play on Buffalo’s top line with center Zemgus Girgensons and right wing Tyler Ennis.
“I think I’m going to be a little bit nervous for the first shift, probably, but I hope it goes away,” Armia said after the team’s morning skate. “I was really happy to get the call up and it’s nice to be here.”
While Armia, 21, may understandably be nervous, Nolan spoke with him about how those nerves can’t get in the way of him playing to the best of his ability.
“Opportunity only presents itself a few times. You can’t waste your first opportunity on being nervous,” Nolan said. “Obviously you are, but you really have to concentrate on what you do best. If he does that, he’ll be fine. You don’t want to sit back two days from now [and think], ‘Shoot, I should’ve done this or could’ve done that. I was too nervous.’
“No, there’s time for nerves. You’ve got to put them in the proper order and play with some composure.”
Michal Neuvirth, who was unable to start Sunday night because of the flu, will man the pipes for Buffalo against Detroit. He was the winning goaltender the last time the teams met, a 3-2 shootout victory in Buffalo. The Sabres haven’t won in Detroit since Oct. 13, 2006.
One year ago to the day, Buffalo played shorthanded against the then-Phoenix Coyotes because of a flu bug that rattled the team. The Sabres dressed only 16 skaters that night and went down to 15 when Drew Stafford was given a game misconduct for elbowing midway through.
Pysyk was credited with the overtime-winner when the puck dropped into goaltender Mike Smith’s pants and he backed up into the net, putting the puck over the goal line.
The Sabres have found themselves in similar short-handed situations the past few nights. Matt Moulson was unable to play Saturday because of the flu, prompting Larsson’s late recall. Larsson missed pregame warmups, but ended up scoring his first NHL goal in the third period.
Then, Patrick Kaleta had to leave the game because of similar flu-like symptoms. Neither Moulson nor Kaleta traveled to Boston for Sunday’s game and Tyler Myers sustained a lower-body injury, so the team called up Schaller and Pysyk.
In that Bruins game, Schaller scored the first goal of his career.
Larsson and Schaller became the first Sabres to score their first NHL goals in back-to-back games since Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen did so last season. Larsson and Schaller became the first Sabres to accomplish that feat on consecutive nights since Michael Ryan scored his first career goal on March 2, 2007 and then Nathan Paetsch got the first of his career on March 3, 2007.
The Bruins battled back to win in overtime, but the Sabres’ effort in a game where they were shorthanded for most of the night impressed alternate captain Josh Gorges.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win. It’s unfortunate we came up on the wrong end, but we learn from those mistakes; we learn from those experiences,” Gorges said. “We’ve got to carry it through to another big effort here tonight.”
Gorges praised the play of Pysyk, who was playing his third game in three nights because the Amerks had games on Friday and Saturday. Pysyk finished the game with 19:58 of ice time and an even rating.
“Obviously for me it’s an opportunity to get into the lineup here with some injuries and illness here,” Pysyk said. “It’s a little bit different lineup than it was two weeks ago, but for the guys that are here, it’ll be a good, hard-fought game.”
With Armia in the NHL, the Sabres have 12 first-round picks on their roster. Myers won’t play, so 11 first-round picks will dress for the Sabres on Tuesday.
Eight of them were drafted by the Sabres (Drew Stafford in 2004, Myers and Tyler Ennis in 2008, Pysyk in 2010, Grigorenko and Girgensons in 2012 and Ristolainen and Zadorov in 2008). Andrej Meszaros (2004), Chris Stewart (2006) and Cody Hodgson (2008) are the other first-rounders on the team.
Kaleta re-joined the team for the morning skate in Detroit and feels well enough to play.
“You never know what you can do. You just try to take care of yourself,” Kaleta said. “You don’t want the sickness to spread around the team so that’s why I didn’t travel to Boston. I’m just thankful to be here.”
While Cody McCormick (lower body) and Mike Weber (knee) made the trip, they’re still not ready to play.
Brian Gionta, who sustained an upper-body injury after taking a big hit from Matt Bartkowski on Sunday, will not play either. Nolan said that Gionta’s injury is not a concussion and that he’ll be further evaluated once the team returns to Buffalo.
Marcus Foligno is out with a hand injury, which happened in a fight with Bartkowski immediately after the hit on Gionta.
Moulson also remains sidelined with the flu.
Nolan hopes both Myers and Weber will be ready for Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders. The Sabres canceled practice on Monday so that players could rest up.
33 Joel Armia – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 65 Brian Flynn – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 80 Chris Stewart
22 Johan Larsson – 59 Tim Schaller – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
51 Nikita Zadorov – 3 Mark Pysyk
61 Andre Benoit – 41 Andrej Meszaros
34 Michal Neuvirth
1 Jhonas Enroth
Injured: 12 Brian Gionta (upper body), 26 Matt Moulson (illness), 57 Tyler Myers (lower body)
Injured Reserve: 6 Mike Weber (knee), 8 Cody McCormick (lower body), 17 Torrey Mitchell (lower body), 24 Tyson Strachan (lower body), 31 Matt Hackett (knee), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)