Cory Conacher had to wait an extra game to play his first game in a Sabres uniform but he’ll take the ice in Buffalo on Sunday.
The wing, claimed off waivers from the Senators on Wednesday, was expected to play in the team’s game against the Panthers in Florida on Friday, but visa issues delayed his debut for one more game.
He will skate with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford on the top line Sunday night when Buffalo hosts the Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center. The game can be seen nationally on NBCSN and on TSN2 in Canada.
“This is a nice debut to make here at home,” he said after the team’s optional morning skate. “It’s going to be fun to play in front of this sold-out crowd and I’m sure the fans are coming for me and not Pat Kane.”
He played at Canisius College for four years, setting scoring records, before signing as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning in March 2012. He’s happy to have wound up back in Buffalo.
“I want to play with this team for a long time,” he said. “There are always teams in the back of your head that you want to play for when you make it to this League and Buffalo is definitely one of them just because of playing at Canisius and being so close to home. Hopefully I can make a good first impression with the coaching staff and the management here and maybe pick up a couple wins.”
Jhonas Enroth is expected to start in goal for Buffalo.
The Sabres are dealing with a number of injuries, including ones that have sidelined forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart and Torrey Mitchell and defenseman Alexander Sulzer.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said that Girgensons and Mitchell could be back in a week or two and that Stewart will be out longer.
With Sulzer also out for at least a week with a lower-body injury, the Sabres recalled Chad Ruhwedel from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League on Saturday. He’s currently the highest-scoring defenseman on the Amerks with 25 points (4+21) in 45 games.
Ruhwedel played seven games with Buffalo before the Olympic break and looks to improve on that.
“I felt pretty good about it, played pretty solid defensively, could’ve been a little better offensively, but other than that, I thought I was pretty decent,” he said.
Nicolas Deslauriers played 15:08 in his NHL debut Friday night. The 23-year-old forward, acquired by the Sabres in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, is looking forward to playing his first home game in Buffalo.
“Couldn’t ask for a better transition. The past four days have been awesome and I’m still trying to wake up a little bit,” he said. “I never got the call-up in L.A. and then I get traded, never thought I was going to get traded, too. It’s all coming together. I’m just trying to sink in everything. It’s been awesome.”
Conacher wore No. 89 in with the Lightning and Senators but decided to go with No. 88 in Buffalo. He didn’t want to wear 89 out of respect for Alexander Mogilny, so he made the switch.
After he picked the number, he sent a text to Kane. The two have gotten to know each other pretty well as they skate and play hockey together in the summer in Buffalo.
“Now a couple of the fans are saying we’re not going to be able to trade for Kane anymore because I have his number,” Conacher said with a smile. “But there were a couple numbers going through my head. I like high numbers and I liked 89 so I decided to go one lower with 88.”
Kane didn’t have a problem with there being another 88 in the League.
“He just texted me, he was like, ‘I’m going to wear your number in Buffalo. Is that all right?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you don’t need to be asking me but that’s fine,’” Kane said. “…He’s a pretty competitive kid. I’m rooting for him for sure. ”
The game marks the first for the Blackhawks in Buffalo since Oct. 11, 2010. They’ll play here every year from here on out as the schedule now allows for every team to play in every city each season.
“It’s cool for me to come back because you go out on the ice to practice or play or whatever and you’re running into the same road equipment guys that were here when I was 6 and 7 years old asking for sticks and pucks,” Kane said. “It’s always cool to hear their stories and see those guys.”
Patrick Kaleta has a locker stall set up in the Sabres dressing room, but don’t expect to see him in a game anytime soon. The Sabres tweeted that Kaleta skated for the first time since tearing his ACL on Nov. 29.
It’s another step forward in his rehab.
“I just know for a fact he’s not playing this year,” Nolan said. “We’ll worry about him this coming summer and we’ll get him ready for next training camp.”
88 Cory Conacher – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 19 Cody Hodgson – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
65 Brian Flynn – 23 Ville Leino – 27 Matt D’Agostini
32 John Scott – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
6 Mike Weber – 57 Tyler Myers
20 Henrik Tallinder – 4 Jamie McBain
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth