CHICAGO – Alexander Sulzer doesn’t wake up every morning at 6 a.m. listening to Sonny and Cher, but he thinks he has an idea of what Phil Connors went through.
The Sabres defenseman will make his season debut Saturday night in the team’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center after being a healthy scratch the past three games.
Having served as an extra defenseman before, he’s mentally prepared to step back into the lineup and is looking forward to another opportunity to play.
“It’s pretty much like ‘Groundhog Day’ for me,” Sulzer said after the team’s optional morning skate. “I’ve been through it for the last five years. It’s not that I’m not putting pressure on [myself], but I know how to handle it. It’s part of the situation I’m in. I’m in the NHL. There’s no reason for me to complain.”
Sulzer has been in and out of lineups his entire career, having never played more than 31 games in a season. He was logging regular minutes with the Sabres last year before a knee injury cut his season short after 17 games.
After re-signing with the team over the summer, he was waived prior to the start of the regular season and then recalled from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League on Oct. 5. Sulzer has practiced alongside Tyler Myers this week and he could very well be paired with Myers against the Blackhawks.
Sulzer will take Mike Weber’s place in the lineup. Weber will be a healthy scratch.
“[Weber’s] in a situation where we have seven defensemen and we want guys to not get comfortable in their positions,” Sabres coach Rolston said. “So tonight we made a change.”
Running with the theme of not allowing players to get complacent regarding their playing time, 19-year-old rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko was scratched for the Sabres 4-1 loss to Columbus on Thursday. He’ll be back on the ice against Chicago.
“It’s not a guarantee to be in the lineup. That gave him some perspective by watching and now he gets to get back in the lineup and try to improve,” Rolston said. “We’ve got the two young centers in there tonight [Grigorenko and Johan Larsson] so we’ve been committed to giving those guys opportunity. It just so happens that [center Kevin Porter] is out.”
Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, Steve Ott, Tyler Ennis, Patrick Kaleta and Christian Ehrhoff did not skate.
Ryan Mller was the first goaltender off the ice after the skate and is expected to start.
Kaleta is scheduled to have an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Tuesday for a hit he made on Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on Thursday. Kaleta is unavailable to play until then.
This will be Kaleta’s fourth suspension by the NHL. He received a five-game suspension last season for a hit on New York Rangers forward Brad Richards.
“For him, I think he’s been through this before. He’s got to be extra careful just because of his past history. We’ll see what happens here come Tuesday and we’ll go from there. He’s going to have to deal with it,” Rolston said. "...The League is putting a big emphasis on anything that has contact with the head, so once you saw it, you knew they were going to look at it right away and make a decision on it.”
Kaleta is one player the Sabres rely on to consistently kill penalties and the shorthanded unit has been a bright spot so far this season. The team’s is currently fourth in the NHL at 93.3 percent, having killed off 14 of 15 penalties. With Kaleta, Porter and Weber all not playing against Chicago, the penalty kill could have a different look.
Sabres forward Brian Flynn has made himself more valuable to the team by being able to kill penalties.
“It’s one of those things that’s such a big part of the game,” Flynn said. “If you want to play some more minutes out there, that’s one way to do it.”