Lindy Ruff broke Tuesday’s practice into two segments as the team continued to prepare for its return to game action on Friday against the Penguins, who play the Rangers and Islanders this week before hosting Buffalo. After going through a 30-minute workout Tuesday morning, the Sabres cleared the ice so it could be resurfaced, then returned for an hour-long scrimmage. The scrimmage ended when Drew Stafford scored a goal during a four-on-four overtime simulation.
The nine-day layoff is unusual in most seasons, but Steve Montador and Thomas Vanek both likened it to last year’s Olympic break.
“It’s something that we’re familiar with, I mean we had the Olympic break last year,” Montador said. “Practices have been pretty tough so far and it’s obviously in anticipation of Friday’s game knowing that Pittsburgh’s going to have a couple of games under their belts and the fact that we’ve had that time off and we’re well rested.”
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Vanek, who along with Craig Rivet returned to practice Tuesday after both players missed Monday’s session due to illness, sees this week as a chance to shake off the rust.
“It’s kind of like the Olympic break for us. You come back, you get to practice, you get the swing of things and make a run for it here in February,” Vanek said. “I think time off is always good to rejuvenate.”
For Ruff, this week is similar to the first week of December when the Sabres had five days to prepare for a game against Columbus, which the Sabres won 5-0 in one of their most dominant performances of the season. He added that he was pleased with the intensity of Tuesday’s scrimmage and plans to make Wednesday’s skate a more physical practice to prepare for the next game.
“Tomorrow is going to be more of a physical day for us,” Ruff said. “A lot of tomorrow will be two-on-two and one-on-one and three-on-three battle drills, forecheck drills, there will be a lot more contact. That is to just have everybody ready for the real deal. Today wasn’t a lot in that sense, it was a lot of skating and passing and positional and system stuff.”
Another challenge presented on Friday will be to see whether the Sabres can complete their first three-game winning streak of the season. On seven different occasions, Buffalo has won back-to-back games, but has yet to string together three in a row. Four of those two-game winning streaks have come within the last 13 games, a stretch that has seen the Sabres go 9-3-1.
With Vanek’s return to the ice, the lines at Tuesday’s practice had a familiar look to them. Jochen Hecht centered Vanek and Jason Pominville; Tim Connolly skated between Tyler Ennis and Stafford; Paul Gaustad continued to play with Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick; and Rob Niedermayer had Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta on his wings.
For much of the season, the Sabres have stressed the need to get offense from a variety of sources. Lately, they’ve been scoring by committee.
The team entered the break on a two-game winning streak and received eight goals by eight different players in those games. Last Tuesday in Ottawa, two players scored their first goals of the season as Paul Byron notched his first career NHL goal and Shaone Morrisonn got his first in a Sabres uniform when he netted the overtime game-winner.
“We need a lot of different people to produce for us. We need the young guys, we need the old guys, we need defensemen getting on the score sheet. It’s going to take a lot to get to where we want to go,” Ruff said.
The Sabres currently have six players with at least 10 goals and have received 25 combined goals from their defensemen, led by Jordan Leopold's 10.