For one of the few times this season, the Buffalo Sabres have the chance to recall players from the AHL based on performance instead of necessity. With a relatively healthy lineup, head coach Lindy Ruff can put a little extra emphasis on the development of his young players.
One specific case is that of Luke Adam
. After a hot start that helped earn him a trip to the All-Star festivities in Ottawa in January, the rookie forward has not registered a point in his last 20 games, dating back to Dec. 17 against Pittsburgh. Adam has been a healthy scratch in two of the last five games, and the coaching staff made the decision to send him down to Rochester today.
Rookie winger Zack Kassian, recalled from the Americans today, will be in the Sabres' lineup tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Right now [Adam's] confidence level is low,” Ruff said. “He needs to go play. He needs to go play a lot of minutes. He needs to get back on the scoresheet and I don't think this is unlike a lot of young players. It's been a tough stretch for him, and Zack has been going well down there.”
Kassian has recorded three goals and three assists with Buffalo this season. He was first called up on Nov. 25, playing in 18 of 19 games as an injury replacement and was an emergency recall again on Feb. 1. He played in one game and sat in another as a healthy scratch in that second recall before being sent back down to Rochester last Sunday.
He's scored twice in each of his last two AHL games, most recently in last night's 9-4 home win over the Texas Stars. In 30 games with the Amerks, Kassian has 15 goals and 11 assists and was named to the All-Star team.
“We'll bring him in, put him in the lineup. He's played well for us. He's been in on a lot of chances. Hopefully he can give us a little pop too,” Ruff said.
With winger Cody McCormick
listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury, Kassian adds some toughness to the lineup as well.
“Cody's done a real good job for us on the physical side of it. So without him, we can get Kass in and he's more of a physical player,” Ruff said.
Ruff also explained that the length of Adam's stint in the minors, where he hasn't played all season, will ultimately be up to him.
“Luke will make that decision himself. If he goes down there and plays well, it's temporary. But he needs to go and put points up and play really well,” Ruff said. “The decision to bring players up is just based on how they play.”
Tonight's game wraps up the Sabres' 15th of a league-high 21 pairs of back-to-back games this season. The Tampa Bay Lightning last played Thursday night, losing to the New York Rangers in overtime. In a game between two teams battling for a playoff spot, Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
recognizes the importance of a fast start for his club.
"That's probably going to be what they say in the dressing room before, to get on us early,” Ehrhoff said. “They watched last night so they're going to try and get off to a good start and we have to make sure we get our legs going again and be ready when the puck drops.”
For Ruff, having good puck movement is important, but so is staying out of the penalty box and keeping Tampa Bay's top players like Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis in check.
“I think overall, our discipline when it comes to penalties, we've cleaned that up again. It's going to be important against this team tonight,” Ruff said. “They're basically been playing three lines. They've been going with that big line 20-plus minutes and you can't give them any free opportunities.”
Ruff indicated that he'll make a decision about whether to coach from behind the bench or not before tonight's game. After breaking three ribs in a fall in practice on Monday, he's coached the last two games from the press box.