After a few hectic days off the ice, the Buffalo Sabres will be back to work on it Friday night.
They host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. in the first game of a home-and-home series and it’ll be the first game behind the bench for new interim head coach Ted Nolan.
Nolan took over Wednesday morning and the game against Toronto will be his first coaching the Sabres since the end of the 1996-97 season. As he looks to the matchup, he talked about how he’s tried to get the team ready in a such a short amount of time.
“A few things change, but overall, not too many things really do change,” Nolan said after the skate at First Niagara Center. “It’s game day. We’ve gotta get ready and our preparation and our focus on the process and not worrying about the result. We just want to make sure we go out there and play the way we’re capable of playing and we’ll see what happens at the end of it.”
Sabres center Cody McCormick told Sabres.com that the changes have brought some new excitement to the locker room. He’ll likely skate on a line with John Scott and Corey Tropp that will look to transfer some of that excitement into the game.
“[It’s been] positive, upbeat. We just have a lot of energy is the best way to put it,” McCormick said. “Ted just wants compete and I think that’s what our line can bring first and foremost. We’re on the same page. We’re kind of the same players and we know where we’re going to be on the ice, so we want to work well together and accomplish things on the ice.”
In addition to the news that Nolan had been brought on and former captain Pat LaFontaine had been hired as President of Hockey Operations, the Maple Leafs being in town adds an extra level of intrigue to the game Friday night.
“The city’s buzzing right now,” McCormick said. “The people I’ve talked to around town are excited and they deserve this excitement going into the game. We just have to come out and produce for them.”
With the team’s recent struggles, defenseman Henrik Tallinder said he wasn’t necessarily surprised that changes were made. He likes the direction the franchise is looking to move in.
“Eventually something will happen, it always does. I think history has shown that. You don’t realize when it’s going to happen so when it happens, it’s always going to be a little bit of a shock,” he said. “But when you hear it’s Nolan and LaFontaine, it’s pretty remarkable. Those guys are heroes here and I think they can build this organization the right way.”
The Sabres did not skate line rushes in practice, but Nolan did offer some hints as to what the lineup could look like up top.
“[Ville Leino] was really good at center ice so we’ll probably put him there and see what happens. And [Zemgus] Girgensons always played center his whole life, so we’ll put him there. [Marcus] Foligno hasn’t really played center until he got to pros, so we put him back on the wing,” he said. “We want to put these players in a position where they feel comfortable so there are no excuses.”
With Girgensons staying at center – but on a different line – according to Nolan, he could be between Foligno and Brian Flynn. Leino could then possibly center Steve Ott and Tyler Ennis on Girgensons’ line from practice Thursday.
Nolan said that defenseman Mike Weber will likely not be available to return from his thumb injury until next week.
Ryan Miller was the first goaltender off the ice and is expected to start in goal.
LaFontaine also talked to the media Friday about where the quest for a new general manager stands. After spending the past few days meeting with various people throughout the organization, he said he’ll really dive into the search next week.
“I’ll be traveling and meeting with some candidates and we’ll see how those go. It’s obviously a priority,” LaFontaine said. “It has to be that right person that’s a fit for this organization going forward. I just don’t want to put somebody in there. I want to put somebody in there that’s ready to do a lot of great things for a long time.”
Watch as LaFontaine tells the story of how he offered Nolan the position of interim head coach. It involves the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon."