EDINA, MINNESOTA – Patrick Kaleta
has been itching to play for a long time now.
He sustained a major knee injury a year ago in the American Hockey League and was ready to go for training camp in September. However, he suffered another setback in a preseason game on Sept. 28, when he was hit in the face with a slap shot and needed surgery to repair the damage.
Thursday night, he’ll play in his first NHL game since Oct. 10, 2013.
“Whenever they need me or call on me, of course I’ll be ready,” he said after practice Wednesday at Braemar Arena, home of the 12-time high school state-champion Edina Hornets.
“I’ve been waiting to play my first real game for like 13 months now. So whatever the team needs me to do to be a positive around here, I’ll do it when I’m called upon. I’ll do my best to contribute in a positive way.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said that Kaleta would be back in the Sabres' lineup when they take on the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. He did not say which forward would be a healthy scratch.
The surgery required doctors to insert three plates and 14 screws into the right side of Kaleta’s face. He’s had to retrain his facial muscles and said he’s still had trouble adjusting to some lighting because the incision was made near his right eyelid.
Kaleta will wear a jaw protector with a tinted shield to deal with it. He also had his friend Fred Jackson, the Buffalo Bills running back, give him some eye black strips that may help reduce glare.
One new pairing on the blue line was put together out of necessity. Andre Benoit lined up next to Tyler Myers because Josh Gorges sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday night in St. Louis. Gorges has been ruled out against the Wild.
Nolan said that Gorges will remain with the team on the trip and be re-evaluated on Friday when the Sabres return to Buffalo.
At forward, Cody McCormick and Tyler Ennis were given maintenance days. Nolan said both will play against Minnesota. He also said that Jhonas Enroth will start in goal.
Ennis took a late hit during the game against St. Louis that caused a few scraps to break out right away. Both Ennis and rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov received their first career fighting majors as a result of the play. The team kept up their physical play as the game went on.
Kaleta likes to play at a high tempo and that type of scrum is one he thrives upon. While he couldn’t be in there for that one, he said that his team’s response was the right response for the situation.
“When you look at trying to find the positives of losing 6-1, people say everything is negative but the way we came together as a team out there, I was proud to see even the younger guys get in there and help out,” he said.
“That’s a building block of building a good team. It’s not rocket science; we haven’t played our best. We haven’t done our best out there and people who watch us and our fans deserve more. And we have a lot more to give.
“But to take a positive out of last night was seeing the guys come together, battle together, stick up for each other and I was really proud of some of the guys and be proud to be a part of that team”
The way the team answered the call reminded Nolan of his early days coaching the team in the mid-’90s. He referenced a game in Philadelphia when the Flyers planned to take some liberties and the Sabres held their own. He said that moment helped bring the team closer together and forge their identity.
He hopes the same thing will happen to this year’s team because of what happened Tuesday.
“That’s how teams are built and families are built – by having each other’s back and standing up for one another,” Nolan said. “Hopefully we’ll look back on this in a little while and say, ‘Hey, that was a turning point.’”
In the loss on Tuesday, Nicolas Deslauriers was given a match penalty for spearing Vladimir Tarasenko with 5:42 left in regulation. The Blues went on a five-minute power play and scored three times to truly put the game away. Because of the hit on Ennis, Deslauriers was trying to stir things up a little bit with one of St. Louis’ best players.
Deslauriers said he spent most of the night reflecting on the incident, watching it over and over again.
“I was caught in the moment. I’m not that kind of player,” Deslauriers said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody.”
Nolan talked to Deslauriers about the incident. While Nolan liked that Deslauriers wanted to help his team, spearing another player was definitely not the right course of action.
“The intent was there to try to do something about a team taking advantage of one of our players, but he just went about it the wrong way,” Nolan said.
Deslauriers said he hadn’t heard anything from the NHL about the penalty.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 36 Patrick Kaleta
65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 21 Drew Stafford – 80 Chris Stewart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 19 Cody Hodgson
61 Andre Benoit – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan
41 Andrej Meszaros
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Did Not Skate: 4 Josh Gorges, 8 Cody McCormick, 63 Tyler Ennis